Keeping the flocks of the region’s lifestyle blocks well-shorn has been Peter Vallance’s business for almost 20 years. Born and bred in the Wairarapa, Peter Vallance got the idea for his mobile Che-Baa-Ber shearing trailer from the UK.
“I was 24 when I first started working in the UK. I’d go over there in March, do some shearing, then grain harvesting and come back for the Kiwi summer. My brother said I should bring back a British idea to New Zealand and make it work. I pooh-poohed that at first but without realising it – that was exactly what I did.”
Drawing inspiration from the mobile shearing rigs used in the UK, Peter designed the trailer to be “a full-on miniature shearing shed on wheels. The design is totally my own invention and I talked the engineer through it so it would suit me as a shearer.”
And the punny business name? “Che comes my wife’s hairdressing and beauty salon in Masterton, because we’re both in the haircut business in a way; and the baa-ber is pretty obvious.”
Launching in May 1998, Peter expected business to be slow, but he was immediately booked by a large farm with thousands of sheep. “It was a real confidence boost.”
Since then, Peter has carved out a niche throughout Wairarapa, tending mainly to a loyal flock of lifestyle block owners, many of whom book him year after year.
“My typical clients are city folk with anything from two to twenty sheep. Most of them want to get involved with the whole process so they’ll usually round up the sheep and help with sorting the wool. I still have a few farming clients but most of my work is on small holdings,” he says.
And it’s the people contact he enjoys, as much as the shearing.
“The people you meet are usually good fun because they all have their story, and I enjoy talking to them. They become your mates, some of them.”
His shearing charges depend on things like the distance travelled and the state of the sheep. “It can take a long time – you just don’t know until you get there.”
He grew up on his Mum and Dad’s 1500-acre sheep and beef farm near Wainuioru. The farm is still in the family, now farmed by his brother. Being able to draw on a lifetime’s experience with stock means he is well-placed to offer advice on sheep rearing to his clients, many of whom have sheep as pets or woolly lawnmowers.
“I’m not a vet but I can give basic advice on when to do things.”
Occasionally, Peter employs extra help but mostly he works alone. That is, if you don’t count Louey, a dapper black schnoodle (schnauzer-poodle cross) that accompanies him out on jobs. Louey may not look like a sheepdog but he’s developed a talent for gently rounding up any stray ewes.
Over winter, the shearing business continues, but there’s enough time for Peter to work either on his family’s 45 acres close to the Tararuas or to sell firewood to clients.
“I’m not planning to make the business big or huge, I just want a market share of nice people. When I get to the point when I can’t do the physical work myself, I’ll probably train up a young person and act as a helper.”