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Sunday, June 28, 2015

Alpaca Shearing Part 1: Prep Work

Setting up canopy for shearing

Setting up canopy for shearing

By Barbara Patterson

At our Golden Pine Alpacas farm lots of prep work is done prior to our mid-May shearing date.

How alpacas love to roll in the dirt! And there is plenty of that on our dryland farm east of the Cascade mountain range in Washington - where rainfall is not abundant and any grass is gone by mid-June. We attempt to get as much dirt, hay, and other debris out of their fleeces before shearing. It’s much easier to get it off the standing alpaca than when the shorn fleece is laid out on the skirting table. In good weather our alpacas are brought into the barn the day before shearing, cleaned, and are not released to the pastures until they are sheared.

We set up a catch pen by a window, strap on face masks, and proceed to separate the dirt and debris from the alpaca. This is not a particularly fun job! We halter the alpaca, lead it to the catch pen, and then vigorously rub the sides, upper leg, and neck areas. It is amazing how much dirt their fleeces can hold! The fleece is examined for hay, burrs, beans, and other undesirables which we remove.

Some of the alpacas take the handling in stride with no fuss. A few hate it and let us know right away by either cushing or rearing up. The majority just tolerate it. We’ve experimented with using a blower to remove the dust but find it isn’t as effective as rubbing them. The alpacas find the noise and velocity of the blower far more distressing than the manual rubbing.

Bags for the fleece are prepared and labeled with the alpaca’s name prior to shearing. The prime fiber is always sheared first and placed in bags labeled 1st. This is the fiber that goes into rovings and yarn. The shearer takes a small amount of fleece from the prime fiber on the alpaca's side which is placed in a small ziplock bag to be sent to a lab for histograms. Histograms give us valuable information about the quality of the alpaca’s fiber. We bag and use the remaining neck and leg fiber for products such as rugs and needle-felted items. A small amount of fleece is not usable and is thrown out after weighing the entire fleece.

Several days before shearing, a 10 by 20-foot canopy is set up in front of the barn. If it rains, the alpacas stay dry. The canopy also provides relief from hot and sunny days. We make a list of the alpacas, the order in which they will be sheared, and which ones need toenails clipped or shots given. If any are to have their legs “stove-piped,” meaning leaving some fleece on, this is noted. Reminder calls are made to Kirk and Becky, who we've hired to assist with the shearing: “See you at 7:30 sharp on Wednesday morning!”

And now we are ready for the shearing!

Next blog: Alpaca Shearing Part 2 Please Don’t Rain –We’re Shearing Today!



Clean-up time before shearing for girls in barn

Clean-up time before shearing for girls in barn