Australia’s ageing shearing sheds are under increasing scrutiny from work safety authorities and shearers lobbying for practical improvements to their working environment.
For many sheep producers, however, the scope for upgrading sheds built 60-plus years ago can be limited and expensive.
Farm building manufacturer State Wide Sheds has found many producers simply opting to start afresh, signing up to build a completely new shed to provide better livestock handling facilities and make shearing an easier job for shearers, farm owners and their sheep.
It’s been a long time since the heady wool boom years of the 1950s prompted widespread construction and renovation of woolsheds on Australian farms.
Not surprisingly, today’s producers were facing a range of safety and efficiency issues, noted State Wide’s operations manager, Michael Dodd – problems which could not be ignored for much longer.
Most shearing sheds are getting very old and in many cases are becoming an occupational health and safety issue for shearers and others working in them.
Much-valued design improvements such as raised and curved shearing boards, gently sloped catching pens and modern insulation, ventilation and lighting strategies were featured in sheds built Australia-wide by the 35-year-old Dubbo-based company.
“Most shearing sheds are getting very old, which means they need more maintenance attention and in many cases are becoming an occupational health and safety issue for shearers and others working in them,” Mr Dodd said.
“Apart from the legal risks for farmers, if shearers aren’t happy with the working environment they’re less likely to want to take the job.
“Finding good shearers is pretty difficult for everybody these days, but if you’ve got a modern shed it’s much easier.”
After a few years of big prices in livestock markets, and a long-awaited kick in wool market values, State Wide had seen a noticeable lift in inquiry about new sheds and new building ideas from wool and prime lamb producers.
Increased activity in the sheep sector was complementing a run of solid orders for sheds with grain storage capability, giving graingrowers the option of storing their harvest on farm until market conditions better suited them.
“For the sheep guys we’re mostly building three or four stand sheds, but some are bigger or more complex,” Mr Dodds said.
Shearing sheds cost in the vicinity of $55,000 a stand and typically take about six weeks to build.
State Wide’s has about 20 staff based around Australia typically working on about six construction projects at any one time.
“For every grain shed or shearing shed we build there’s still just as much demand for machinery sheds and hay storages,” Mr Dodd said.
“Tax depreciation incentives for hay and fodder storage investments have kept things pretty busy for the past year or so.
“However, we find demand fluctuates with local seasonal conditions and can be quite varied in different states.”
Changing attitudes to machinery storage were also promoting steady interest in big equipment shedding.
“If you’re buying machines worth up to $700,000 each, and they’re full of electrical componentry and GPS equipment, it makes a lot of sense to keep your gear protected from the weather as much as you can.”
Woolgrowers were even incorporating machinery storage space in their new multi-level shearing sheds, ensuring the buildings were utilised all year.
Concrete-floored wool storage rooms could easily double as storage areas for farm vehicles, welders, generators, grain bins or “even a Steiger tractor if your shed’s big enough”.