The folks who didn't know they had a ram now only have two sheep, one of which is the ram, who is now a fine 2-tooth. I warned them that in a few months he'll probably start to get stroppy with their kids. This in the forlorn hope that they'll replace him with something smaller and less testosteroney before he tops 100kg. The owner of the Johnsonville pub now has 6 ex-tailenders from last year that you can barely see for the amount of grass he has. He needs about 20 more of the same, because tailenders need that extra grass and he could finish them nicely on what he has. As it is, it'll mostly go to seed and lose its goodness.
It was nice to do the Woodburn Drive run and catch up with the people. I went to 6 farms and shore 19 sheep. One of them in the middle of the paddock, where we just walked up to it and did the job.
Every year I have a particular conversation at shearing time. Usually I have it once or twice, sometimes it seems every man and his dog wants to talk to me about it.
It's about price. You see, I've been charging the same amount for shearing for five years. I charge $5 a sheep, or $7 if I drench them. I throw in the hoof trim for free. Now, shearing is very hard work and most people can't do it. I have almost a monopoly here in Wellington, since anyone with handpiece skills is either retirement age or too smart, and they stay well hidden.
A lot of people seem to think that $5 a sheep is ripping myself off. I've been given advice on callout fees, mileage, gear-maintenance factors and all that sort of thing, and the vast majority of people who talk to me about this think that I should be charging way more. And from an economically-savvy perspective, they'd be right. Here's a quick rundown of my costs:
My handpiece was given to me. It had a fault, and I sent it away to Sunbeam who found it to be a design fault and repaired it for nothing. It's been mine from pretty much brand new, and because I shear so few sheep it's unlikely to ever wear out, and it may need service in 10 years if I keep looking after it. When I started shearing for lifestylers I bought 5 new combs and 10 new cutters for a total of $150. I think I've bought one more comb and 3 more cutters since then - $70. I go through about 1 litre of oil a season. I bought a good pair of secateurs for hoof trimming for $30, and a good pair of scissors for dagging (I charge $2 for dagging) for $45. I use other people's machines to drive the handpiece.
I shear around 200 sheep twice a year. I will get 20 grinds each from my combs and cutters, and they need grinding after about 20 sheep. I can't be bothered doing the maths for what it costs me/sheep for this - I tend to think of it in terms of how many sheep I have to shear to cover the cost of buying new stuff. Most of the combs I bought 5 years ago are not yet out of the bevel and this means I probably have another couple of years before I have to buy new ones.
The mileage is the only factor that varies from place to place, and apart from one place up in Emerald Hill with only three sheep, I've now got my clients sorted so I very rarely get in my car with less than 20 sheep to shear.
So really, $5 a sheep covers my costs easily, and my profit margin at that rate is around 75% - same with the drench, it's 50c a shot to buy, I sell it for $2 a shot.
Now, about that goodwill thing. The advice I've been given about callout rates, hourly rates and mileage is good, sound advice for the real world. I can shear 15 sheep an hour in a woolshed, but often my work is in a paddock, and I have to pack up and travel every four sheep or so, so I end up averaging about 6 an hour - which is not that good an hourly rate after costs. However, this is not the real world we're talking about. This is a magical fairy world full of sheep with names that you can walk up to in the paddock, and people with high ideals and no ability to shear sheep.
So what actually ends up happening is this conversation:
Them: How much?
Me: $5 a sheep, that's $30 thanks.
Them: Nah, that's not enough. I really appreciate you coming out here and doing this. *hands me wad of cash*
Me: OK, gosh, thank you.
*handshakes and smiles all round*
See you in 6 months!
The dynamics of this interaction are brilliant. My base charge covers my costs easily but is low enough to not cover the gratitude for the service that most lifestylers feel, so they want to give me more because $5 sounds like not much at all to shear a sheep. They give me more to cover this.
I get more than I charge, they get to feel generous, everyone walks away feeling good. So, how much do I actually average per sheep using this method? Well, last night I shore 19 sheep and came home with $170 - that's just under $20 a sheep, and that's without drenching them. This is pretty normal. That chap in Upper Hutt with the three sheep normally gives me $50, for example.
I could just charge $20 a sheep - but I like the goodwill aspect of this and I'm much more likely to have people being wanky and me feeling like The Help if I charge that much off the bat. As it is, the good-naturedness of the transaction (which is really important to me) is preserved because I'm doing people a favour, yet I'm still going home with the same bottom line. I haven't calculated my profit margin, but if I'm profiting 75% at $5 a sheep, then it's pretty good. And even at only 6 sheep an hour, it's not a bad hourly rate.
So, the dollar value of goodwill? $15 a sheep. Not bad, I reckon.
[EDIT] As pointed out by beagl, my maths up there *points* is FUBARed. This is me laughing at myself. But you get the idea, right?
In other news, I want to live here:
With or without the lights (they are art apparently) - it's the place I like. I love the way the grassy slope drops off out of sight, it makes me want to go see what's down there - and the same on the other side of the valley.
Also, I probably should have done the 'week in pictures' thing. I'm having an interesting week, visually. Oh well. Next week!