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Shearing: Luke Vernon claims world record eight-hour Merino ewes title

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Michael-James “MJ” Terry (left) watches Luke Vernon on his way to being the first person to shear 500 Merino ewes in eight hours. Photo / Rocky Wegne

An Australia-based shearer from the tiny horticultural township Ettrick in Central Otago has become the first person to shear 500 Merino ewes in an eight-hour record attempt.

But it’s only the start for 28-year-old Luke Vernon, who reckoned he shore “like s***” for most of the day before the drama of the last run on Friday.

The attempt was at Thornton Park, Wandering, in the West Australian Wheatbelt, about 120km southeast of Perth.

Vernon was targeting the record of 497, set by former Hawke’s Bay shearer Lou Brown in 2019.

He entered the last two hours two-down, after successive runs of 120, 125, and 125 from the 7am start, and needed the biggest-ever two-hour run in Merino ewe records history to get it over the line.

But, with mentor Michael-James “MJ” Terry at his side throughout all 480 minutes on the board, Vernon locked it in less than three minutes before the 5pm knock-off and finished with 130 for the run.

Suspense had been the name of the game, for 24 hours earlier, the first sample wool-weigh shear failed to meet the minimum average requirement of 3.4kg per ewe.

The wool-weigh shear was before a judging panel convened by Northern Hawke’s Bay official Bart Hadfield, as the statutory judge from outside Australia.

Luckily, it was achieved in two following shears.

Vernon’s not committing to anything yet for the future, although the nine-hour record of 540 shorn by fellow Kiwi Floyd Neil in West Australia a year ago dangles tantalisingly within reach, based on Friday’s hourly rate of 62.5 an hour or one ewe every 57.6 seconds.

“A week off, back into the gym, and keep myself ready,” he said.

An ex-boarder at Dunstan High School, Alexandra, Vernon was a shepherd at Lime Hills, Miller’s Flat, when he made the move to Australia looking for farm work and started planting trees “around Perth”.

He then got a job pressing for Katanning contractor Terry, who sent him to shearing school after six months and put him on a stand soon afterwards.

His only previous shearing experience was while shepherding and crutching lambs for the freezing works.

“There’s always an opportunity around the corner,” he said.

“Honestly, I can’t rule anything out.”

Mentor Michael-James “MJ” Terry congratulates Luke Vernon after he shore 500 Merino ewes in eight hours. Photo / Rocky Wegne
Mentor Michael-James “MJ” Terry congratulates Luke Vernon after he shore 500 Merino ewes in eight hours. Photo / Rocky Wegne

It takes a lot of help, which on Friday was headed by Terry, who is still the holder of the two-stand record, set in 2003 with brother Cartwright, who held the solo record until Brown’s record four years ago.

Among the others were Neil’s father, Roger Neil, from Taumarunui and himself a former multi-stand record holder, woolhandlers Maria Ormsby, “on the broom” and originally from Rotorua, and Raven Waitere, Cyaniquah Rangawhenua and Santi Hemopo, and Pope Hick, the “expert” on the gear.

Read more shearing and woolhandling stories here.

Others key to the record bid were contractor Rob Christinelli, of Pingelly Shearing, for whom he has shorn for the last five years out of Pingelly, and Thornton Park owners Dougal and Ashes Young.

The record, better than any tally Vernon had ever done in the woolshed, was the latest in a series of nine successful solo shearing record attempts in Australia and New Zealand in the last 16 months; dating back to the breaking of the men’s solo eight-hour strong wool lamb record twice in two days in New Zealand just before Christmas 2022.

In the latest summer, all four women’s solo eight and nine-hour strong wool ewes and lambs records were broken in New Zealand, and there’s more to come, with Australian shearer Jeanine Kimm aiming to establish a women’s eight-hour Merino ewes record on May 4 in New South Wales.

The World Sheep Shearing Records Society also has two more solo strong wool record attempts booked for August in England, with English shearer Nick Greaves targeting New Zealand shearer Jack Fagan’s eight-hour lambs record of 754 and Scottish shearer Una Cameron chasing the women’s nine-hour ewes record of 458 set in in the South Island by King Country shearer Sacha Bond in February.

Vernon plans to return to New Zealand for pre-lamb shearing in Central Otago.

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