Shearing day at Alpaca Meadows takes place once a year, usually late April or early May before it gets hot. It sometimes is a family affair, sometimes a few friends come to help, but always it’s a long, hard, dirty day. At the end of the day, it’s a tired that feels good. The hard work and the help of everyone present results in a crop of beautiful alpaca fiber, alpacas that will be comfortable when hot weather arrives, some family bonding, and enjoying friends while we work together. Preparing for shearing day is an important step that results in a day that runs smoothly. However, the best laid plans sometimes go awry.
Sloppy Joes, buns, chips, apples, Little Debbie’s, bottled water, coffee, grooming tools, halters, leads, bags, labels, broom, dust pan, garbage cans, and helpers!
I had checked my list and seemed to have everything ready for shearing day the next day. The shearers were scheduled to arrive sometime between 11am and 1pm, so we planned to spend the morning cleaning alpacas. I returned home about 7pm the day before shearing day thinking I could relax, only to receive a call from the shearers that they would be arriving at 7am!
Seriously? Other than needing to clean alpacas, I was very glad to be fairly organized and prepared in advance. Alpaca fiber is easier to clean when it’s on the animal, versus after they are shorn so we do spend time doing this. That being said, it was a very early morning cleaning alpacas and attempting to stay ahead of the shearers, who move at a fairly quick pace (and drive a very decorative car).
Shearing is a Family Affair
Our daughter Abby often keeps us organized on shearing day, handing us plastic bags, plastic sheets, and labels for the appropriate alpaca’s fleece. Our granddaughter Laila, not wanting her picture taken, took our daughter’s place when Abby moved away.
Our sons and eventually grandchildren have stayed home from school to help with our “family business”. Helping with shearing day, in my opinion, is as much an education as a day at school!
We have one alpaca named “Martha” that refuses to walk to the barn, and must be carried. This was far easier to do when she was small.
Alpacas wait their turn in holding pens.
We do it this way in order to try and limit the different colors of fiber getting mixed together, preventing color contamination.
Handling the Alpacas
Some will clean alpacas with several different types of grooming tools, picking out hay, straw, and burrs, as much as each alpaca will tolerate.
Someone will halter the alpacas in the pre-determined order listed in the barn and in the shearing area, put them into a holding pen, and then when it is time walk the alpaca to the shearing area. Once the alpaca is restrained on the mat for shearing, that person will bring the next alpaca. Another person will return the alpacas to the pasture or barn once they are shorn, making sure to return males and females to appropriate places.
Someone will hand a plastic sheet and plastic bag to the people gathering the fiber. That person will also be handed two labels with the name of the alpaca being shorn on it. One label will read “Blanket” and the other will read “Seconds”. The blanket fiber, or prime fiber, is laid on a flat plastic sheet to be carefully rolled in the sheet, a process called noodling. This way it can later be unrolled the same way it came off the alpaca and skirted.
The “noodled fiber” is put in a bag along with the seconds which consists of the neck and upper leg.
And of course, there is always time for my children to check text messages!
Until they see they are having their pictures taken!
Clowning around always keeps the atmosphere light hearted!
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, and the legs.
Topknots, tails, toes, and teeth get trimmed. Some toenail trimming will get done throughout the year too, but always at shearing time when alpacas are still, and it is super easy to do. Vaccines and deworming injections can be given while alpaca is restrained.
Alpacas produce five to ten pounds of fiber per year (2.5 to 7 pounds of prime fiber and 2.5 to 4 pounds of seconds). More on what to do with all of it in another post!
Llamas are twice the size of an alpaca and according to our shearers, the “take down” is much more fun! It’s humiliating really, for such a large animal who is in charge of her herd, to be subjected to this, but it must be done. Unshorn llamas and alpacas are subject to heat stress, and can die. Some llamas, and alpacas, are shorn standing. Seems laying them down on a comfortable mat and restraining them is probably the safest way, just my opinion.
She is down, and the shearers discuss what they might have done differently!
And catch their breath!
It is Sam’s turn to be shorn.
One of the shearers and Sam take a break! Cuddle time?
Shearing is Finished
It took about three hours for the shearers to shear 24 alpacas and one llama. 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!
The sloppy joes were ready but it was only 10am.
Grandson Keandre’ and son Aaron take a break.
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. All that fiber can wait for another day!