Cooper chases passion for sheep, wool sector

Cooper chases passion for sheep, wool sector

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Next gen shows shear determination to follow in family's footsteps on the boards

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INSPIRATION: Potential future shearer/farmer Cooper McKenna (centre), Kyancutta, with father Ty, great-grandfather Henry, grandfather Blue and poddy lamb Hei Hei.

INSPIRATION: Potential future shearer/farmer Cooper McKenna (centre), Kyancutta, with father Ty, great-grandfather Henry, grandfather Blue and poddy lamb Hei Hei.

FOR three-year-old Cooper McKenna, plans for a future career are clear - "a shearer, a farmer and a crutcher".

Donned in his everyday uniform of a shearer's singlet and pants, the kid from Kyancutta keeps his "kit" in a Paw Patrol backpack.

He has family footsteps to follow. His great-grandfather Henry McKenna first started shearing in 1945.

In the bid to "make a few dollars - or pounds in those days", he and his brother bought a portable shearing plant and hit the road.

Henry said in those days he would earn 2 pounds 10 for every 100 sheep shorn.

This job took him along the coast of Eyre Peninsula and even the South East at Millicent at the age of 21, getting home in time for Christmas.

Henry has seen some big changes in the industry and the sheep in his time.

"They're getting bigger with less wrinkle, and a lot better to shear," he said.

"In the olden days, farms used to grab any ram they could find, it didn't matter what breed.

"In the real early days, they never classed the wool at all - might skirt it a bit - then it all went in the same bale."

Cooper's grandfather Blue McKenna has also picked up a handpiece in his time to supplement income.

Anything to do with sheep and farming, he loves it. He saves up his coins to buy a ram. - TESS McKENNA

Blue said he started on the "narrow gear" and while in many locations the move from narrow to wide combs was a contentious event, he remembers it very simply.

"A bloke I was working with had the wide combs and I asked how it was, then thought I'd switch," he said.

Blue said it seemed a good way to get the work done quicker with a few less blows.

"There were a few arguments with older shearers who thought it should be (stopped)," he said.

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The third generation - Cooper's father Ty McKenna - also dreamed of farming and shearing as a boy.

"I went away to boarding school and all I wanted to do was be a shearer and a farmer," he said.

But his parent's encouraged him to get a trade, so he worked with SA Power Networks, first in Adelaide and then closer to home at Wudinna, before returning to the farm full-time in 2014.

While Henry says Ty "can still use a handpiece pretty well", he generally restricts his time in the shearing shed to classing, having taken on the role from Blue.

The McKennas crop about 4000 hectares and run about 1100 ewes - down on their usual numbers but they are working to rebuild their flock.

Cooper also has uncles on his mother Tess' side - Dylan and Jed Beinke - that also shear.

While Cooper has seen his 'Pop' Blue shear a few times, his main inspiration comes at shearing time, with the McKennas shearing every eight months.

He is also an avid follower of ram sales, with his particular favourite always at lot 1.

"Anything to do with sheep and farming, he loves it," Tess said.

"He saves up his coins to buy a ram."

Cooper wants his sheep to have good wool and be big and strong, while "grumpy sheep" are "sent to the butcher".

For now, his biggest job in the shearing shed is sweeping and giving 'support' to the shearers, particularly during smoko.

But Cooper has already shorn an actual sheep, when the McKennas had some new ewes to shear in mid-June.

With the help of his "favourite shearer" Brandon Waters, he was able to perform the long blow along the belly.

He is already excited for shearing to begin in October.

But in the meantime, he has settled for shearing teddy bears, and on occasion, little sister Nahla - when he's not passing on his knowledge to her.

Ty said Cooper was always looking to learn something each time he was around shearers.

"The first time it was about using handpieces, then the second time, you've got to change the cutter, and the third was oil," he said.

"He picks up something new every time."

Cooper now has a routine with his "oil" in a water bottle near his "handpiece" and his music before he can begin shearing.

Henry says Cooper is "going to be a gun by the look of it".

But despite his early enthusiasm, the McKennas say there is no pressure, with him going to follow in his father's footsteps and go away to school and decide on his own terms where his future lies.

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