Preparing for Shearing Day

Shearing day is one of the most important days of the year on alpaca farms. It is the day that we harvest the beautiful fiber that our alpacas have grown over the last year. Getting organized for the day ahead of time certainly makes the day less stressful and chaotic. Teamwork and a well thought out plan will make shearing day run like a well oiled machine.

That being said, shearing is one of my least favorite parts of raising alpacas, because though our shearers claim it takes them just eight minutes to shear an alpaca, and though they are not harmed in any way, it still is a scary experience for them. Some tolerate it better than others. All of them feel better when it’s over.

So I think of it as an day at the spa for alpacas … they get their teeth, their toenails, their topknots, and their tails all trimmed … in addition to a summer haircut!

alpacas

The cleaner your alpacas are on shearing day, the more value your fiber harvest will be. It has been said that you should “Groom your pasture, not your alpacas.” Make sure that briars, sticks, evergreen needles, dead leaves, and other small, loose vegetative matter are removed from your fields so that it doesn’t get into the alpacas’ fiber. Ideally, keep them in a nice grassy pasture with no hay one week prior to shearing.

I did say a green pasture was ideal. Our alpacas were on straw and a winter’s worth of manure (layered with straw) on shearing day. In Ohio, we go from winter to mud season and it just always seems to be too wet to clean the barns and haul manure anywhere. It’s not the end of the world.

In the pictures, you can see that we’ve used our interlocking stall panels so that we can herd each alpaca into our chute for cleaning. Our chute has belly bands and various restraints to keep the alpacas semi-still while we do some cleaning. Cleaning involves picking the debris out of their fiber, as much as they will tolerate. If they are getting stressed, we quit. This is also a good time to give yearly vaccines, dewormers, and any other medication they are needing.

Here is a list of items to have on hand on shearing day:

  • Large sheets for collecting blanket (prime) fiber. Plastic tablecloths work nicely for this, or a large plastic bag cut up both sides.
  • Large clear plastic bags for seconds (neck and upper leg) and noodled blanket fiber. Clear bags can be hard to find. Check Costco or Odd Lots. Read how to noodle alpaca blanket fiber here.
  • Trash cans for collecting thirds (leg fiber, tail, top knot, trimmings), or a smaller bag if you plan to weigh fiber from each alpaca.
  • Trash can for contaminated fiber.
  • Labels to identify fiber from each alpaca.
  • List of alpacas in order you plan to shear, males first, then light colors to dark colors.
  • Loaded syringes if you plan to administer shots the day of shearing.
  • Towels for “accidents”.
  • Broom for sweeping fiber.
  • Halters/leads to move alpacas to shearing area and back to pasture/barn.
  • Cleaning tools. We use the Crimp Slick N Go and the Oster Curry – Coarse, found at Quality Llama Products. Some people use blowers, but we never have.

Weather is always an issue. If it looks rain, keep your alpacas in the barn to so they can stay dry. A wet alpaca cannot be shorn.

We shear males first so they can be put back out in the pasture and away from the girls that will be parading by all day. We then shear lightest colors animals to darkest, which helps to prevent color contamination.

If we have a mother and cria, we try to keep them close in the shearing line-up to minimize stress for both.

You will need some help. The shearers, of which we have four young, strong men who are professionals and know what they are doing, will perform most of the physical work. This year we got by with three additional people helping the shearers, four or more is better for our size herd. Each helper has a job:

Helper One and Two: Halters alpacas for shearing in listed order, brings alpacas to shearing area. Once alpaca is restrained on mat for shearing, brings next alpaca. Returns alpacas to pasture once they are shorn, making sure to return males and females to appropriate places!

Helper Three and Four: Lays sheet down next to alpaca to collect and noodle blanket fiber, collect seconds, and puts correct label with each. Collect thirds. Sweep up any fiber too dirty to use, toenails, etc.

In the background, you can see the plastic sheets we use, and bags ready to go. Next to them is a clipboard with the list of alpacas in order to be shorn. Labels for bags are also on clipboard.

It’s always a delight to see the lovely fiber that comes off our alpacas!

This is a picture of blanket fiber that has been noodled, label enclosed, with a bag of seconds next to it. I slip the noodled fiber in the bag of seconds, using just one bag per alpaca, but still keeping the blanket and seconds separate.

Alpacas spit! Usually it is at each other, or when they feel threatened. Unfortunately some of them feel threatened on shearing day, and Kevin took it right in the face.

Our grandchildren, Wade, Clayton, and Brylee were the clean-up crew this year! I love that we live on a farm and can involve them!!

Alpacas look a whole lot different without their beautiful fiber, just in time for warm weather to arrive.

Be sure to see Shearing Day and Shearing Day is Behind Us. Coming soon … What to Do With All This Alpaca Fiber!

Shearing Day

Sloppy Joes, buns, chips, apples, Little Debbies,  bottled water, coffee, grooming tools, halters, leads, bags, labels, broom, dust pan, garbage cans, and helpers!  I think I have everything ready for shearing day the next day.   The shearers are to arrive sometime between 11am and 1pm so we plan to spend the morning cleaning alpacas.  I can relax … until … I get home about 7pm and there is a call from the shearers that they will be arriving at 7am!

Seriously?

Alpaca Shearing

My 16 year old daughter Abby usually keeps us organized on shearing day, but she is on medical status at school, and can’t miss more school without a doctor’s excuse.  So be it.  She will go to school post-shearing day and be unexcused.  We need her help!

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Three of our grandchildren also stay home from school for “family business”.  Their mother feels helping with shearing day is as much an education as a day at school.  How right she is!

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Friends arrive to help.  My 21 year old son Aaron drags himself out of bed.

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We will shear light colored alpacas first, then medium and dark colors to try and limit different colored fiber getting mixed together.

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Some of us will clean alpacas with several different types of grooming tools, picking out hay, straw, and burrs the best we can, and as much as each alpaca will tolerate.  It is much easier to clean fiber while it is still on the animal than after it has been sheared off.

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Someone will halter the alpacas, they will go into a holding pen, and await their turns.

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A team of four strong and young men come from ShearingAlpaca.com.  They are very experienced at handling the alpacas, laying them down on a mat, and restraining their legs to be shorn.

The head shearer on the shearing crew will shear the blanket first.  The blanket is considered to be the prime fiber.  Another shears the neck, the belly, the legs.

Topknots, tails, toes, and teeth get trimmed.

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And there is lots of fiber to gather.  The blanket is laid on a flat plastic sheet to be carefully rolled in the sheet.  This way it can later be unrolled the same way it came off the alpaca and skirted.  Skirting is the process of removing coarse or dirty fiber away from the blanket.

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And of course, there is always time for my children to check text messages!

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Until they see they are having their pictures taken!

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Llamas are twice the size of an alpaca and according to our shearers, the “take down” is much more fun!

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Our llama, Silver Beauty, has her own ideas about getting a hair cut.

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She is down, and the shearers discuss what they might have done differently!

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The cleaning is done.  Grandson Keandre’ and son Aaron take a break.

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It is Sam’s turn to be shorn.

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One of the shearers and Sam take a break!

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Cuddle time?

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The shearers finished 24 alpacas and one llama in about three hours.  The shearers were paid, the fiber was loaded in the trailer, tools were put away, the floor was swept, and our alpacas were all a little bit lighter.  And cooler!

Shearing Alpacas

The sloppy joes were ready but it was only 10am!  We loaded up and headed to another alpaca farm nearby to help with shearing there.  Finally, with another herd shorn, we sat in the sunshine and enjoyed some lunch!

See Shearing Day is Behind Us

Shearing Day Is Behind Us

Today is Thursday, we sheared on Monday.  I just now feel recovered!
Shearing Day at Alpaca Meadows
Our shearers were scheduled to arrive at 10am Monday morning.  Sunday night we received a call and were told the time would be changed to 2pm.  I contacted our helpers and hoped they would still be able to come.  Considering the forecast of 100% rain we thought this might actually work out better.  We would be able to get alpacas into the barn and fans on in an effort to get them dry.Shearing Day at Alpaca Meadows
We did not pen them in the night before because we thought we’d have time to deal with wet alpacas first thing in the morning.  Instead, at 7:30am we received another call saying the shearers would be there at 10am.  The owners of the farm scheduled at 7 were not home when the shearers arrived, so this put them ahead about 4 hours!
Shearing Day at Alpaca Meadows
We shifted to high gear, contacted our helpers, brought the alpacas in, set up pens so they could spread out, and turned on the fans!!
Shearing Day at Alpaca Meadows
All’s well that ends well.  Suris dry more quickly than huacayas, we learned that!
Shearing Day at Alpaca Meadows
Trying to stay organized, keep helpers organized, and shear alpacas in an orderly fashion we started with our light colors, shearing suris first, then moved to browns, multis, and black.  We are working with a certified sorter apprentice this year and by doing so are hoping to learn how to sort fiber ourselves. The fiber from all alpacas was taken off and carefully laid on a sheet of plastic, then rolled up so it can later be unrolled on a skirting table.
Shearing Day at Alpaca Meadows
Head, tail, and belly can then be more easily identified and coarser fiber skirted away, versus throwing it all in a bag and having finer fiber contaminated by coarser fiber.
Grades of Alpaca Fiber
It was a great plan except that at the end of the day, all our neatly rolled blankets had to be unrolled and spread out on the barn floor to dry!  The best laid plans . .
 Shearing Day Fiber Crop
Several days later the fleeces were dry.  We rolled them back up until next week when they will be unrolled again and sorted!

Shearing Day Fiber Crop

And now the alpacas all look a little silly.  Several days of cold weather followed shearing day.  I am sure we had some cold alpacas.  I would rather err on the side of having some cold weather than go into June with pregnant females still in full fleece.  With fiber that is warmer than wool, alpacas get hot!  Teeth, toenails, topknots and tails are trimmed on shearing day.  It’s kind of like a day at the spa, well not exactly . . .

Shearing Day at Alpaca Meadows

Today the sun is shining.  It is warming back up and we have a herd of happy alpacas!

Meet Sunshine!

Raw Alpaca Fiber

And lots of beautiful fiber!

Raw Suri Fiber

We’ll be sorting our fiber next week, then making decisions about what we will do with our crop this year.  All grades of fiber can be used for something!  Click Raw Fiber  if you’re interested in purchasing some before it goes to the mill for processing.

See more pictures from Shearing Day.



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