Cutting Edge Research

RESEARCHERS have tried to find alternatives to shearing. But none have worked so far. In the 1980s, the Australian Wool Corporation (AWC) funded a search for a synthetic chemical that would cause the wool to break off. But the chemicals had detrimental side effects on unborn lambs, says Roger Thiessen, manager of production and wool harvest research at the AWC. The funding was cut off on this project in 1988.

Attempts have also been made to shear the sheep with robots. Merino Wool Harvesting Pty. Ltd. in Adelaide has devised a system that runs an electric current through the sheep. The shearing head stays just above the sheep's skin as it is repelled by the electric current. The present model shears the sheep in 90 seconds. A second generation machine is expected to be much faster. But Ted O'Callaghan, schedule controller for the company, says funding for the project ran out last July. He says the company ho pes to get new funding so it can begin field-testing the device next spring.

The University of Western Australia in Perth, supported with A$7 million (US$5.5 million) from the AWC, is also trying to perfect a robotic shearer. According to Mr. Thiessen, this system takes 16 minutes to shear the sheep. It is still in the research phase.

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