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. Preparing for shearing day and 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 alpacas is one of my least favorite parts of raising alpacas. 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!
The cleaner your alpacas are on shearing day, the more value your fiber harvest will have. 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 is ideal, just not always realistic. Our alpacas are sometimes still bedding down on straw and a winter’s worth of manure (layered with straw) in our barn, on shearing day. In Ohio, we go from winter to mud season and it often is too wet to clean the barns and haul manure anywhere before shearing day. It’s not the end of the world.
In the pictures, you can see that we’ve used interlocking stall panels so that we can herd each alpaca into our chute for cleaning. Keeping the stress level to a minimum and being set-up so that we can easily move, not corner, our alpacas is important. Our chute has belly bands and various restraints to keep the alpacas semi-still while we clean them. Our chute has also come in very handy for trimming toenails of a few of our alpacas that are harder to handle, and for administering first aid.
Cleaning alpaca fiber prior to shearing involves picking the debris out of their fiber, one piece of hay, straw, burr, dead leaf at a time. We only spend as much time doing this as they will tolerate. If they are getting stressed, we quit. We have several grooming tools that we use as well. This is also a good time to give yearly vaccines, dewormers, and any other medication they are needing.
Alpacas are very photogenic, but actually quite a challenge to photograph well. They tend to move a lot, frequently have their ears down, are huddled in a group, looking the wrong direction, or even relieving themselves. Be sure to take some pictures before shearing day, especially if it is a first shearing. Your alpaca may never look this way again.
Weather is always an issue. A wet alpaca cannot be shorn. Alpacas need to be penned up and dry in an area preferably without bedding if possible. If rain is called for, we keep our alpacas inside before it begins. Shearing alpacas wet can be both dangerous and ruin the fiber. Even if we’ve kept them dry prior to shearing, we still have a short walk between the barn and garage where we shear, so it sometimes becomes necessary to leave bags of damp fiber open so the fiber can dry.
Our shearers use a rope tie system with mats that requires an approximate minimum space of 12’ by 12’. With the size of our herd, there is usually a four man team that comes to shear, and they use two mats at a time. Our garage works best. The area should be well lit, flat and dry.
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 or 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.
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 colored animals to darkest, which helps to prevent color contamination in the shorn fiber. If we have a mother and cria, we try to keep them close in the shearing line-up to minimize stress for both. We keep a clipboard in the barn and in the shearing area, with a list of our alpacas in the order they are to be shorn. This way the handlers in the barn know who’s next, and the shearers and fiber gathers at the other end know what label to put with the appropriate fiber.
You will need to line up some help as you are preparing for shearing day. The shearers are young, strong men who are professionals and know what they are doing. They will perform most of the physical work. However, there is other work to be done. A good rule of thumb is to have at least two people on hand for a herd of ten or under and 3-4 people on hand for larger herds.
Many alpaca breeders help each other. We ask our alpaca friends to help on shearing day, and then return the favor when it is time for them to shear their alpacas. Children and grandchildren, as well as friends have helped out on shearing day, and each helper has a job.
Helper One and Two: Halter alpacas for shearing in listed order, bring alpacas to shearing area. Once the alpaca is restrained on the mat for shearing, bring the next alpaca. Return alpacas to pasture once they are shorn, making sure to return males and females to appropriate places.
Helper Three and Four: Lay plastic sheet down next to alpaca to collect and noodle blanket fiber, collect seconds, and put correct label with each. Collect thirds. Sweep up any fiber too dirty to use, toenails, etc.
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 do 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.
Treat your Shearers and Helpers
Shearing day is a long, hard, dirty day. Everyone works hard to get the job done. Shearers in particular are doing a lot of travelling, and are apt to shear at three to four alpaca farms in one day. Providing bottled water, a light meal, and snacks for them is much appreciated.
Find an Alpaca Shearer
Trying to find an alpaca shearer to shear your herd? Take a look here. We use Biosecure Alpaca Shearing who require pre-registration in November or December of the year preceding when we need to shear.
Be sure to see Shearing Day and Shearing Day is Behind Us. Coming soon … What to Do With All This Alpaca Fiber! You may also want to meet our Alpacas and shop for Alpaca products in our Online Store. If you’re in our area, you may also want to visit our Farm Store.