29 June 2005South Africa’s sheep shearers have again proved they are the best in the world. Reigning champion Elliot Ntsombo retained his World Blade Shearing title at the World Shearers Championship held in Toowoomba, Australia recently. The championship has showcased the best sheep-shearers in the world for over than two decades. Shearing is physically gruelling, technically intricate and intellectually demanding, and South African shearers have dominated the event since 1996.Ntsombo, whose home is a tiny village about 30km from Barkly East, comes from a family of sheep shearers. He retains the world championship title he won in Scotland in 2003. Ntsombo works on contract for Cape Mohair and Wool (CMW) and is also CMW’s chief training instructor.Bongani Joel of Alwynskop in Lesotho took second place, and Zokezele Doba and Zweliwile Hans, both from Sterkspruit in the Eastern Cape, took third and fifth place respectively. All three earn their living shearing on contract for CMW. Doba and Joel were first-time contestants.CMW spokesperson Graham Frost said the hand-shearing competition was judged on speed and quality.“Shearers are penalised if they nick the sheep during shearing, if the sheep is not cleaned properly and there is excess wool left hanging on the shins, shanks and udders, and if they perform a double cut in an attempt to clean excess wool,” Frost said.He added that South African teams dominate the blade shearing championships because South Africa is one of few countries to use blade shearing on a large scale.“But hand shearing is picking up again in New Zealand and Australia, because of the high maintenance and overhead costs of machine shearing.”Ntsombo is no stranger to travelling and shearing in front of thousands of spectators.“I’m getting older, so it was no easy task and the competition was strong, but I am proud to be world champion again,” he said.Australia’s current blade shearing champion Bill Julius, from Tenterfield, bemoaned the fact that Australia has never won the coveted title.Machine shearingSouth Africa’s Kenneth Norman took third place in the individual machine shearing competition. The South African team, made up of Norman and Daniel Nteko of Frankfort in the Free State, took third place in the team division. Norman, originally from Stutterheim, Eastern Cape, is now based in New Zealand but competed in the South African team.“The South African machine shearing standard is improving and we stand a good chance at winning the competition in two years’ time,” Frost said.Norman was also chosen to join Hendrik Botha and Izak Klopper of CMW this year as Golden Shears World Council members.Wool handlingAlex Khuma from Sterkspruit in the Eastern Cape won fifth place in the individual wool handling competition, with the team taking sixth place overall. Khuma was also a first-time contestant.“Khuma’s achievement was remarkable,” said Frost. “Contestants were judged on speed and their economic justification of their final clip. They also had to categorise the fleece in terms of type and length, rate it as strong, medium or fine and take out all outsorts like urine or vegetation-stained wool.”The major sponsors for the World Championships were Standard Bank, Intervet, Voermol, BKB and CMW. Other contributors were Total, Nissan and Southern Cross. This year’s championships attracted 640 participants from 17 countries.Julia Kupka is deputy editor of Farmer’s Weekly.This article was originally published in Farmer’s Weekly, South Africa’s national agricultural magazine, and is reproduced on www.southafrica.info with kind permission.