Grant’s shear grit

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Alex Smith, left, with parents Lynn and Grant at the officials table during the Ashburton A&P Show shearing competitions.

Forty years of shearing has not lost its appeal to Rakaia shearing contractor Grant Smith, owner of ProShear Ltd.

He jumped at the chance to compete last weekend at the closed to the public Ashburton A&P Show shearing competition.

And won the open/senior local shearer event of five sheep in a final which became an all-ProShear Ltd showdown with company shearers Toko Hapuku (Methven) second, and senior shear winner Taare Edwards (Ashburton) third in the local event.

Grant, 55, started on the stands as a teen in school to help a family friend.

He learned how to shear from the likes of John Hough, Lindsay Palmer and David Fagan, and worked with Peter Lyon, John Mulholland, Adrian Cox and Barry Pullin, before setting up the contracting business, in Rakaia, with Norm Harraway.

Now Grant, and wife Lynn run the business and at peak, from mid-July to the end of September, have 30 to 40 staff working in the Ashburton and Rakaia gorge’s and as far afield as Little River, at Banks Peninsula.

It’s a busy operation which sees staff often living and working together. It helps if they get along.

The couple’s twin sons, Alex and Jackson, 26, have also ventured into shearing, but in different ways. Alex has taken it up as a profession – after attending Telford – and has travelled the world shearing. Jackson, after full-time university study and two completed bachelor degrees, sees its potential as a pathway for travel.

After four decades, representing New Zealand and plenty of titles, Grant feels the impact on his body with ‘‘a few niggles’; he is likely due a hip replacement with bone-on-bone a bit of a cause for concern.

Luckily most of Grant’s 16-hour-long days involve keeping the shears moving for his staff, and clients. He’s lucky if he has shorn 100 sheep pre-lamb this season, he says.

Veteran shearer Grant Smith’s contribution to merino shearing was acknowledged with the Murray McSkimming Memorial Trophy at the New Zealand Merino Shearing Championships in Alexandra. Photo Barbara Newton

Despite this, Grant was on the starting line up in the New Zealand Merino Shearing Championships open machine shearing event at Alexandra last month; its 60th show.

He took the stands against 37 others; all younger, and among which included his son, Alex, 26.

Lugging merino wethers weighing up to 60kg, Grant made it through to the six shearer final.

He is now the only shearer aged over 50 to have contested the open final twice. He last did it in 2018.

Although this year it was won by Nathan Stratford, the Alexandra show has a special place in Grant’s heart.

The shows are a way for people to try to better themselves, often not about the prize money but earning the title, he says. There is plenty of competition between shearers — friendships are made in the yards, put aside during the event, and rekindled afterwards.

‘‘I’ve competed at the show right through the grades, and have met a lot of good people over the years,’’ he said.

Alexandra is ‘‘one of the more challenging shows in the country’’, and a must for shearers on the national circuit, he says.

It is also where he won his first title, competing at his first show back in 1986.

Then, at age 18, he took the senior shearing title, after only ever having shorn one merino.

Records soon followed.

The 1990s were a good decade.

‘‘I was young and fit’’, he says.

Alex Smith, left, competing next to his father, Grant, in the open machine shearing heats at the New Zealand Merino Shearing Championships at Alexandra. Photo Barbara Newton

There were 300-ewe shearing milestones (completed twice), and three world merino shearing records set. The first in 1993 at Ben Omar Station, in Omarama, where Mr Smith shore 447 merino ewes in a nine-hour day, the second — a two-stand record alongside Barry Taylor set at Omahau Station, Twizel. The duo set a wether record of 809 in nine hours.

Grant’s third record attempt was at Ryton Station, Lake Coleridge in late 1999, when he shore 418 wethers in nine hours.

The following year he won his first New Zealand merino title — his Alexandra shearing highlight.

The second time, four years later, earned him a spot in the New Zealand team competing at the World Championships in Toowoomba, Australia in 2005 alongside shearing legend Sir David Fagan.

He then went on to represent New Zealand many times, and travelled the world shearing, with stints in the UK (mostly England and Scotland) and Hawaii.