Ever wondered what is required to shear an alpaca? Lots of planning, teamwork and energy!
Alpacas should be sheared once a year. Their fiber grows 4 to 6 inches in a year, and that is a perfect length for spinning into yarn.
Here in Alberta the ideal time to shear is in the late spring or early summer. If the animals are sheared at any other time, they will need to stay in a barn to protect them from cold weather until their fiber grows back enough.
At Love’s Grace Farms, we book a team of shearers who will trim the entire herd of 200 alpacas in 2 to 3 days. Each animal is on the shearing table for about 3 minutes. Just a short time of undignified inconvenience and then it’s back to eating. Although, since the alpacas do not like to be touched, it is stressful and not a pleasurable experience for them. But once their long winter coats have been taken off, they love to go for a roll. Then they are back to eating as if nothing ever happened. The group of newly shorn females in the picture above is back to eating. (Look closely for the one that is still fuzzy. She slipped by the shearers!)
For the rest of us, planning is required to make sure there are enough people to do all the other jobs that ensure a smooth flow to our shearing days. All the breeding and health records are brought up to date and printed for reference. Lots of food and drinks are brought in for the crew, who are usually ready for the tasks at hand. The shearers arrive early in the morning and set up their space with tables, grinding tools, and several sets of shears. All blades have been sharpened, bright lights are on and fans are blowing.
Before the first animal is sheared, the crew will move 30 or so animals through increasingly smaller rooms in the barn. In the last room, which leads to an alleyway, the alpacas are haltered and necklaces are removed, ready and waiting for the call from the shearer – “Next!”
The shearing team quickly takes the alpaca and tips it down onto its side and onto a low table. The legs are secured with ropes and the front shearer secures its neck and head between the shearer’s legs. No time to waste, the loud whine of the shears fills the barn and the shearing begins. Baskets are placed on the ground to take the fiber as it comes off the animal. One half of the alpaca is sheared, toe nails are trimmed, and then the animal is quickly flipped to expose its other side.
While shearing is going on, one team member takes notes on the alpaca’s health, condition, conformity and fiber qualities. Another crew member sweeps the floor and takes baskets of newly shorn fiber to the person who will do a quick sort and grade of the fleece.
Three minutes are up, the shearing is done and the head shearer yells “Next!”. Then quickly the animal is slipped off the table and onto its feet. The alpaca then goes to team members who replace the ID necklace, administer a vaccination and an oral dose for parasites.
Whew! Done for another year, at least if you’re an alpaca! For the people handling the fiber, the job has just begun. More on that in later blogs!