Training and Passion Sets The Seal on Helga's Success
As we head into the 2018 shearing season and British Wool launch this year’s courses, we talk to Helga Sinclair, aged 29, one of Scotland’s most progressive and passionate shearers who was brought up on the family farm at Nottingham Mains, Latheron in Caithness.
She is typical of the new breed of British shearer who have started to make an impact on the world of shearing in both the northern and southern hemispheres, showing renewed interest fuelled by enthusiasm and training from mentors at courses run by British Wool.
Helga took up shearing 4 years ago - it has now become her full-time career spending six months here in the UK and six months in the Antipodes. She has just returned home after spending three months in Australia followed by three months in New Zealand.
Around sheep all her life, it was not until she took time out for travel post-university in 2009 that she found a penchant for the wool harvesting industry. After obtaining her agricultural degree at The University of Aberdeen, she started to wrap wool with various shearing gangs overseas, which led to a keenness to become a shearer. Helga tells us how this was triggered:
“When I was wool handling I watched the shearers at work and realised I didn’t want to just handle the wool, I also wanted to shear the sheep. I gave it a try, and soon discovered shearing came naturally to me.”
“With support and advice from the shearers I was working with, I initially learnt how to shear the last side then progressed to shearing the entire sheep. I took every opportunity to practice and garner knowledge from those around me.”
In order to take that first rung of the shearing ladder, Helga knew she had to improve her technique, to shear properly and efficiently. She attended a British Wool course taken by Lanark-based Lance Armstrong, who she was wool handling for at the time. She completed the two-day course and successfully secured her Blue Seal. This was swiftly followed by her taking up a career as a professional shearer.
With over 100,000 sheep and several years of shearing under her belt, Helga realised there was a gap in the market, and last year launched her own three-stand shearing run to support farmers across Caithness and beyond.
Helga and her gang shear from their own mobile lorry with one exception: “When shearing on the uninhabited Island of Stroma the farmer ferries us across in his boat for the day to shear his 500 North Country Cheviot Sheep.”
Some people would say that once they have learnt, that is it, however Helga is fully aware there is always opportunity to improve and in looking to the future aims to complete her British Wool silver and gold seal courses. “You never stop learning and you can always improve your technique, so I know that attending these courses and securing the seals, is key to my continued progression within the industry from both a working and competitive aspect.”
In terms of personal records, Helga’s first milestone was achieved in the Falkland Islands where she reached 300 full wool ewes on her very last day there. Then on to Australia where she sheared 200 Merino ewes in one day, progressing to 320 Merino Lambs the following year. Her current personal best was recorded earlier this year in New Zealand when she sheared 402 lambs in one day, 22 more than her previous record.
Despite shearing for only a relatively short period of time, Helga is not one to stand still. She continues to have her eye on Competitive Shearing, and takes part in all of the Scottish Shows and where possible around the UK and even Europe. In 2016 she won the Scottish Intermediate circuit, a competition which is the accumulation of six competitions. She’s also represented Scotland in the Blade Shearing at Corwen Shears in North Wales, and won the Girls shearing in France with Emily Te Kapa in 2016. In 2017 she won the Mittleklass shearing, open blade shearing and open woolhandling at the biennial German Shears.
This year she is hoping to complete the Scottish circuits and spread her wings heading to other parts of the UK, and perhaps to France again.
Helga’s short-term goal is to expand her business and compete in more home competitions, as well as completing her silver and gold seal awards with British Wool. Longer term, she hopes to help support the next generation of young shearers.
If she could be given a shearing lesson by anyone in the world, she would choose her all-time shearing hero, Ivan Scott, from the Republic of Ireland. “It must be Ivan because he has achieved what he set out to do. He is a tremendous shearer both in terms of speed and skill. As a wool handler for two of Ivan’s record attempts I saw first-hand the techniques and attitude needed to succeed at this level.”
“I admire him because he is very efficient, and has achieved so much in his career – not only on the technical side but also from a mental perspective. When shearing for world records, a shearer must continuously concentrate for long periods of time and Ivan has mastered this. I would love to be given the opportunity to learn some of his shearing, concentration skills and techniques.”
The best piece of advice Helga has received was from Northern Irish sheep shearer, John Buchanan who said: “Heart will get you further than anything.”
Her own advice to anyone wanting to learn or develop their own shearing skills is that you must have determination. “Some days will be better than others, but don’t stop and don’t complain!”
What does she love about wool? “Lots of things, it is a great product: it is great to wear and is extremely versatile.”
Helga loves her job and everything that it entails including of course the comradery. “The wool harvesting industry for me is a great industry to be in as wherever you are in the world you are part of the shearing family, making compassionate lifelong bonds.”
Her favourite sheep to shear is the Herdwick. Unfortunately for her there aren’t many on her own shearing run!
Colin MacGregor British Wool’s Head of Shearing said, “Helga has achieved great success in her career to date and I am very pleased to see that she acknowledges the importance of training for both professional and competitive shearing.
“As an agricultural cooperative representing around 40,000 wool producers, British Wool has consistently prioritised training and knowledge transfer. Our training scheme is internationally renowned as being one of the best shearing training schemes in the world. We have 60 active instructors in the UK, including many national champions. Our courses, held on host farms across the UK from late April to the end of July, offer all shearers of any age, the chance to learn more about their trade and advance their skills.”
Visit www.britishwool.org.uk for more information, register for a course and pay online (10% on line discount). You can also find British Wool on Twitter and Facebook @britishwoolfarm.Back to News & Events