Megan Whitehead mid-way during her shearing record, with father and clockwatcher Quentin Whitehead looking on from the
next pen. Photo / Supplied.
A sprightly Southland shearer has today smashed a women’s world record by clipping 661 lambs in nine hours in a woolshed
Tipping the scales at just 60kg, standing just 1.7m tall and shearing and despatching the average 34-36kg lambs at an
average of less than 50 seconds each, 24-year-old Megan Whitehead was chasing the previous record of 644 set in 2007 by
Waikato shearer Emily Welch.
Welch and fellow female shearing legend Jills Angus Burney, who established the record with 541 in 1989, were both among
the hundreds who urged the new star on during the day, in temperatures rising close to 30deg late in the day but perhaps
the highest accolades came from one who wasn’t - World shearing great Sir David Fagan, who watched live-streaming at his
home in Te Kuiti.
Reaching for the superlatives, Sir David said the lambs weren’t small and it was a superb effort for Team Whitehead,
with the lady on the board at a young age with the shearing World at her feet.
Sir David Fagan was the first male to shear over 700 lambs in an official World Shearing Records Society nine-hour
record - when he shore 748 in 1985 and adding over 100 to a previous men’s record of 626 - and predicts Whitehead will
one-day be the first woman to shear more than 700.
Speaking from Te Kuiti mid-afternoon, with a new record imminent, Sir David said: “She’s going to break it. And if
anyone’s going to break it again, it’ll be her.”
Having exposed her potential when shearing 608 during a four-stand women’s record in January last year, Whitehead was
today ahead of the required pace of at least 72 an hour from the start, shearing 153 in the first two hours from 5am to
breakfast – already nine ahead of the 144 with which Welch opened her big day 13 years ago.
She then backed-it up with successive 1hr 45min runs of 132, 126, 125 and ???, hitting the goal amid rapturous applause
about with just under 10 minutes to go to knock-off at 5pm.
Welch had shorn runs of 144, 125, 123, 127 and 129 when she did her record, while in her record 31 years ago Angus
Burney shore runs of 128, 105, 105, 103 and 100, and remembers thinking that with the wave of women starting to working
and competing as shearers a tally over 700 would not be beyond reach.
There was a huge support crew, headed by father Quentin Whitehead who monitored the clock closely throughout as his
daughter worked alone on the Grant Brother’s shearing board at Croydon Bush, just north of Gore.
Former national circuit champion, 2017 World teams champion, multiple New Zealand team member and fellow Southland
shearer Nathan Stratford took care of the shearing gear, with Whitehead changing cutters every quarter-hour, and with
combs at at least one each run.
Despite attending almost every record attempt since her own successes, Angus Burney, now a barrister, was in awe as much
of the shearing as with the attention to strategic detail, including the breeding of a line of Snowline over Romney and
planning through the Covid-19 dilemma to enable the required overseas judge to be able to adjudicate via an AVL feed.
The judge, Mark Baldwin, watching from his bus company office in Tocumwal, NSW, was one of four judges appointed by the
World Shearing Records Society to ensure the quality of the shear and that all rules were adhered to, including an
average of over 0.9kg of wool per lamb as assessed when a sample of 20 lambs produced 21kg on Wednesday.
While the athleticism of Whitehead impressed and amazed throughout, it was not all plain-sailing. The record could have
been higher, but for judging rejection of at least three lambs during the day, although the quality generally was
reported to be of a high standard.
Quentin Whitehead, who like record-breaker’s mother Tina McColl was a shearer, estimated 70 people were in the crew,
both in the woolshed and other roles. It also took substantial sponsorship and a big financial input, starting with a
fee of $US2500 to the records society.
It was the second women’s solo lambs record in just over 13 months, with Canadian shearer Pauline Bolay having shorn 510
in eight hours in a day masterminded by now shearing contractor Welch in December 2019.
The men’s nine hours strongwool record is 867, set by Irish shearer Ivan Scott in England in mid-2016, breaking by one a
record held by Hawke’s Bay shearer Dion King for about nine years.