The ongoing flood situation in parts of Victoria is causing delays in shearing sheds, with sheep either too wet to be shorn or properties inaccessible due to underwater roads.
A Merino stud in northern Victoria has been almost completely underwater for the last six weeks, with the recent rain causing further strain.
Ninuenook Merino stud manager Elizabeth Todd, Jeruk, said the neighbouring Avoca River had overflown onto their property, causing paddocks to be underwater and roads in and out inaccessible depending on the day.
They normally aim to shear their sheep in late September/early October, but have not been able to get shearers onto the property.
And it could be another month to six weeks before access to the property opens up and sheep are dry enough to be shorn.
"We moved all the sheep to the highest ground we've got which is near the house at the start of September and we had time to get them crutched, and thank goodness for that," Ms Todd said.
"We've kept them there thinking it wouldn't be all that long until we'd be able to shear them but that hasn't been the case.
"We could get rain for another two to three weeks so the sheep are just continuing to grow wool."
She said they operated on an eight-month shearing schedule, which had given them a bit of extra leeway.
"The wool isn't over the 90-millimetre [length] point yet, which is good, but it would be getting there," she said.
She predicted the biggest issue would be getting the rams out with the ewes for joining.
"We typically do that on November 15 but I don't even know if we'll have the sheep shorn by then," she said.
Despite these challenges, Ms Todd's spirits were high and attitude positive.
"We know there are people in worse positions than us," she said.
"We just have to take it one day at a time and know it will dry up eventually."
Three years ago, Ioness Poll Merino stud principal Rob Coutts made the move from 12-month shearing to six-month shearing, but shearing delays had made this hard to achieve.
Mr Coutts' shearing contractor would normally have started shearing by early October at this time of year but no shearing has started yet.
He said as soon as things dried out this would be able to get underway but with more rain on the forecast, "that could be at least another week away".
He said there were areas of his property that were still underwater after receiving over 100mm of rain in the last couple of weeks.
He said while his property was nowhere near as badly impacted by the floods as others, his shearing contractor worked in affected areas and was struggling getting jobs done, meaning the delays impacted his operation too.
"It is a little frustrating with six-month shearing because you need to get it done close to the date every time and it mucks you up at the other end if you don't," Mr Coutts said.
"Whereas if you're operating at 12-month shearing there's a bit more flexibility in getting it done earlier or later."
He said despite this, the transition to six-month shearing had been incredibly advantageous with stock health improving and joining percentages increasing.
Mr Coutts' St Arnaud-based shearing contractor Broderick McIntyre, McIntyre Shearing, said the recent rain had resulted in jobs getting cancelled.
"On Thursday a week ago we had no trouble getting to the shed we were working at that day, but on the way home we got stuck in water on the roads that was 55 centimetres deep," Mr McIntyre said.
"Then on Friday we had 2500 sheep in a shed at Glenthompson we were meant to shear but we couldn't get there because the roads were flooded out."
He said they had better luck last week with most of their jobs arranged for areas around Lake Bolac and Glenthompson, which hadn't received as much rain as others.
"But this week we're only going to get two days in because it's raining everywhere," he said.
"We were meant to shear 5000-6000 sheep this week but we'll be lucky to get to 500-600."
He said these delays would have flow-on affects over the next couple of months.
"It means we're going to be playing catch up for some time," he said.
"We've got a lot of sheep on the books to shear in the next couple of weeks, so the pressure's definitely going to be on."
Mr McIntyre said the situation was only exacerbated by the ongoing issue of sourcing labour.
"At the moment we have about 18-20 shearers, whereas last year we had 30," he said.
"We've flown over a heap of Kiwis this year but it's still not enough."
He said the woolgrowers he worked with had been understanding about the delays.
"We don't want to let the farmers down and I don't want to have shearers not working," he said.
Shearing Contractors' Association of Australia secretary Jason Letchford said shearers were being adaptable in managing the volume of sheep that needed to be shorn and the wet weather that was preventing that from being done.
"Shearing contractors and growers are working together to even get a day's worth of shearing done here and there," Mr Letchford said.
"Some shearers are ringing a group of five farmers and getting them to get one day's worth of sheep in the shed and keeping them dry, and then going out to each farm on a different day to shear the dry sheep.
"It's certainly out of the normal procedures where you come and do one farmer's whole job in one go."
But he said one advantage to the COVID-induced shearer shortage of the last few years was that shearers and woolgrowers had become better at being flexible in situations like this.
"While it's front of mind, woolgrowers have become very forgiving of the challenges facing shearers," he said.
"Although once we get into summer and hopefully by then the flooding is three months behind us, if shearers are still catching up then, people will lose their patience."
He said it was great to have New Zealand shearers back in the country but they tended to prefer working in certain sheds over others.
"There are currently two situations playing out," he said.
"Western Victoria and south-east SA is where there is the best concentration of fat lambs in the country and they're the most similar sheep to what NZ sheep breeders produce, so NZ shearers are most familiar with those and prefer to work with those.
"Once you go further north up into NSW with those traditional, heavy Merinos, where shearers also have to travel long distances, there is definitely more of a shortage up there."