Sheep shearing is a much maligned industry. The historical view of shearers, especially in New Zealand has been that they are rough, tough, hard drinking and often of a low class. I have heard stories of people shearing all day in the UK and not being able to come in the front door to get clean at the homestead of the farm they were at.
I often have to set people straight about the reality of shearing, and that beer is not a key feature of the culture. I find it very hard to be polite when they are so scathing of the industry. I've chosen to pull a couple of my own Facebook posts about it too - it gets me hot under the collar but I'm not always eloquent about it, and it won't help the industry if I get mad. So, here I am.
It’s disappointing and frustrating to know wonderful people, who are honest workers, who work in the hardest physical job in the world and realise that they are thought poorly of in society. Changing that is important, and viewing this occupation as a high level sport is a wonderful way to portray this to the general public. I do, and so I’ve gone and developed an app to help you perform better.
An empty shearing board at my parent's farm
Pleased to meet you!
I’m Storm Baynes-Ryan, and I’m a physiotherapist and a mum of three, and now an app developer. I’ve developed a shearing app to improve your performance and experience in the shed. I thought it important for you to know who I am, where I’m from and why I’m doing this
My family and I live in Gisborne, NZ where my husband (the Weatherman), who was a shearer for 14 years, is now a helicopter pilot. He still shears occasionally, for my parents, and at local shows where he has, to our children’s delight, won some ribbons in his last few outings. His handpiece has seized, so we always hope the sheep are similar so he doesn’t have to use power tools to change his comb!
Why on earth are you creating a shearing app?
When we first met ten years ago in 2006, I was rowing competitively, and spent hours and hours on the erg (rowing machine) staring at the display, and used a similar display when I was on the water. It told me everything I needed to know about to keep rowing well (as did my coach, via megaphone), all I needed to do was stick within the strokes per minute, keep my power curve even and my time per 500m down.
The problem was, if the screen broke, I had to do this in my head, and lost control over anything that I couldn't concentrate on (and believe me, it's a finite number of things I can focus on) as I didn’t have any external information to play off. My rate went up and down, my power and speed consequently suffered, and my technique was not as good. I surmised that this would be the same for shearers.
An erg screen - all the details I needed to be able to be super consistent.
This is how to create a shearing app over a 10 year period.
The Weatherman was shearing fast, and shearing well, but was always looking at his watch and his tally counter, and doing maths in his head. It made for interesting pauses in conversations! We discussed making a tally timer to use for shearing.
I wrote down the specifications, and drew a design. I talked to my parents about it, my father had approached one of his friends when digital clocks came out 10 years before, he hadn’t done anything about it. I didn’t know what to do next. So, I left it in a file.
A couple of years ago our whole family was in the shed, shearing my parents’ sheep as we always do, when my brother said “someone should create an app for this” and I asked him if he wanted to do it with me. He told me he’d leave it to me. I advertised for some app designers but couldn’t find anyone suitable.
In 2015 I realised that if I didn’t do this, I would regret it for the rest of my life.
So I got out the credit card, retrieved the plan from the depths of my computer and found an amazing app designer who has led me through all the twists and turns of designing an app that no one has ever made before. He is very patient, and even from Sri Lanka has a basic grasp of shearing, which has been helped by previous visits to NZ.
Right now as I type, I have eight testers with the app in their greasy hand, putting it through its paces and finding any of the last wrinkles that we’ve not found so far.
After that, it’s off to the stores for approval, a process which takes two weeks. Then I’ll let you know when the app is going to arrive so you can get it.
A prototype of the Shear Pace App main screen.
How Shear Pace will improve performance
I know that measurement is a key part of performance in any realm. If you want to save money, you need to measure what you earn and what you save. If you want to lose weight, you need to measure yourself, and then take note of what you lose, and keep note of it, because one day you will forget that you had to wear clothes that big (unless you keep them to try on – which is another form of measurement).
So, when you are shearing, Shear Pace App is going to keep track of time for you. You don’t need to work out 56 seconds from when you caught the sheep at 3:36:47pm because the time will be showing up for you on your Shear Pace App screen, with your tally. The Shear Pace App will give you brain space to think about your technique.
The Devil is in the Detail - How will I know it's going to help me?
Those wonderful app testers? Because I'm a nerd, I’ve got them doing an experiment. They select a line of sheep that will cover them for two runs, and choose a tally they want to shear per run. (The runs are the same length).
The first run, they use their tally counter and clock, just like normal, and focus on hitting the designated time per sheep, or quarter, however they do it. The second run, they open up their app and choose the tally and run time. Then, they start shearing, focussing on their technique for speed, using the app to "think" about the time for them.
My theory is that this is going to be where the cream is for you shearers – when you shear better, you shear faster, without focussing on the speed. I hope I’m proven right. I’ll get the information to you as soon as possible.
The App in use - another application, for records and training.
Where to from here?
In the meantime, I’m going to be researching anything I can get my hands on to improve your performance. I’ll analyse it, critique it and see how it can be applied to shearing, because there is no one doing that. I’ve got some theories on how to be faster, stronger, more flexible and lots of other things that I want to share with you.
Each month I will write a blog, supporting your aspirations, and delving further in to different aspects of performance. The Shear Pace app is just a small part of this – it’s just the beginning, measuring, because
“Measurement is the first step that leads to control and eventually to improvement. If you can’t measure something, you can’t understand it. If you can’t understand it, you can’t control it. If you can’t control it, you can’t improve it.”
H. James Harrington
What do you want to know about for your performance? Is it technique related, strength or flexibility, injury management, nutrition or something else? Let me know via comment, facebook message or email and your topic could be my next research topic and blog post.
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