The distance of toilets from the workplace, and the need for gender separation, brought as much animated debate as lighting placement and grating types when producers gathered for a shearing shed design workshop in Longreach in December.
The productivity lost - five or six sheep behind if a shearer needs to get into a car and drive to an ablution block - highlighted the need for a holistic approach that incorporated all aspects involved in planning an efficient shearing process.
More than 40 attendees from Tambo, Barcaldine, Aramac, Stonehenge, Ilfracombe and Longreach took part in the morning, held to help producers working to rebuild western Queensland's wool industry stay on top of the latest trends.
A variety of options were showcased by DAF senior extension officer Jed Sommerfield, highlighting innovations such as wool bins on wheels to enable dual use of the space and demonstrating the placement of powerpoints, delivered from the roof and supported by chainlink.
Longreach shearing contractor Rae Bowden had many valuable insights drawn from practical experience, beginning by praising LED lighting options.
"What you see is what you get - they throw light to all corners of the shed," she said.
Ms Bowden was born into the shearing game and has travelled throughout Australia as part of the industry, giving her many insights into what works.
While stressing the need to phase out shaft gear for safety reasons, she said she understood the financial stress many had been going through in the last few years.
With that in mind she highlighted the mobile shearing plant hire scheme operated by a manufacturer, which as well as getting sheep shorn in tough times would help growers trial certain layout options before building.
"We'll be happy so long as we can all work towards change together," she said.
Having experienced a lot of raised shearing boards, Ms Bowden told the day that bracing for safety rails was much better off coming from the ceiling than from the floor up, so that rouseabouts could sweep the whole way along the board uninterrupted.
While reviewing a variety of designs, participants were able to question others on airflow style efficiencies, when to use W strap rather than weldmesh, depending on visibility needs, and find out that wheels on mobile gear didn't tend to clog with wool, contrary to expectations.
Western Queensland's heat brought questions about insulation in future, about whether whirly bird spinning patterns would baulk sheep with their shadows, and general debate about attracting shearers to sheds in hot climates.
Finance affects design decisions
If financial considerations are at the forefront of shearing shed design, straight boards are the most economical to build, according to Longreach construction expert Marty Smith.
Mr Smith was one of the speakers taking part in the workshop and was able to back his words with a long list of new sheds built or repaired, including a new eight-stand shed at Barcaldine Downs in 2008 and the six-stand shed built at Sunbury near Isisford in 2019.
With one grandfather a shearer and the other a builder he could be said to be an expert but Mr Smith stressed that each client had different perspectives.
In his experience the new plastic grating wasn't suitable for use when renovating old sheds, unless joists were replaced, at around $70/metre.
Another tip passed on was to make the classing floor higher than the wool pressing area if possible, so that classers weren't needing to throw fleeces up all the time.
The last five new sheds his company has worked on have had raised boards.
Mr Smith said while timber flooring was better to work on, concrete was better if there were plans for the shed to double as a storage area.
Others were quick to point out that storing feed in shearing sheds made them difficult to decontaminate at shearing time.
Sum insurance precision
Looking around at a variety of shed designs, and making changes on the plan not halfway through the build were Mr Smith's other suggestions, as well as telling people to get their sum insured right, considering most of his shed work came from fire or storm damage.
Complementing that was QRIDA's regional area manager Brad Whittington, who spoke on loans available for producers planning new infrastructure or productivity improvements.
Also on hand on the day was Barcaldine producer, veterinarian and agribusiness consultant David Counsell, who spoke about a variety of practices at shearing time that could improve profitability.
"Sixty per cent of all costs of running sheep (on our property) revolve around the shearing process," he said, explaining the value of attention paid to all aspects.
That included a debate on clip preparation and the value or otherwise of classing wool and possible discounts at sale time.
"People down south are saying, why class," he said. "They say, put the wool straight into bales, and now there's a debate around what that means at sale time, whether a zero classing certificate brings a discount."
He said in his shed a lot of blending took place to minimise one or two-bale lines, as well as a plan to sell wool unskirted, given that western Queensland wool didn't have the dag problems of southern states.
According to Landmark wool account manager Bob Tully, some of his clients regard classers more as rouseabout managers these days.
"I've got four clients that (don't class)," he said.
According to Leading Sheep representative Ingrid Miller, the committee was keen to continue the dialogue in 2020 and consider other workshops on the topic.
"Today is definitely not the end of the topic," she said.