Saturday, May 21, 2011


This year we decided to do something different for shearing our alpacas - shear them ourselves! In years past we've hired someone to shear them, which is what most farms do. To do this you either have a shearer come to your farm, or you take your alpacas to them. The shearer does the shearing, but you help with holding the alpacas, gathering the fiber and all the other stuff. We've done all the other stuff, it was just the actual cutting of the fiber that was new to us.

We've learned a few things over the years about shearing. One is that the fiber grows back. Even if the alpaca looks terrible, even if the shearing job is terrible, eventually the fiber grows back and it doesn't look bad anymore. They outgrow even an ugly hair cut. The bigger concern is cutting the alpaca. We've had to stitch up an alpaca's leg before (yes we've done our own stitches in our barn). We hope we never have to do that again, but we've done it and can do so again. I know shearing yourself is a big undertaking, but we decided there was no time like the present. If we ever wanted to do this, why not start now?

There are several ways to shear an alpaca, and there are many opinions on what is best. Some shear all the fiber down, others leave the fiber on their face and legs, others do a mix of the two. I think what is best is what you like and works for you. This is an area that over the years we've changed our mind on, but not everyone has the same experience, and therefore, not everyone will come to the same conclusion. We used to try to keep most of the fiber on their face, head and legs. We didn't do the bobble head look specifically (leave it all on0, more of a tapered look. We love that woolly face look, and wanted to hold onto that. But we found that in the show ring it is not a good idea. Judges do not like to have the bobble head look on top (or even the tapered head look that we used to go for). We actually had a judge specifically say in the show ring not to shear an alpaca how we had ours done (ours still got 1st place mind you, but still, I don't want to be the example of what not to do). And, if the legs are too woolly they don't look straight (which can affect their scoring on conformation). We've gone to preferring a more sleek shorn look. Not only does that work in the show ring, but also helps keep the older girls trim down so we don't have to worry as much about burrs or hay getting stuck in their fiber. We trimmed back top knots last fall and that has worked so much better for us. I was scared to do it, but, as I stated above, the fiber grows back. It's not gone forever. We can trim it back, and if we don't like it, not trim it like that again. There are times that once an alpaca's face is shorn the fiber doesn't come back as full as it was. But in that case, it would fall out anyway (I've seen it happen where the alpaca did have a woolly face, never shorn, and then doesn't have it anymore). What stays on is what would grow back anyway. We've shorn down Victoria's face many times and it grows back. If the woolly face is there, it will grow back and be there, no need for a bobble head look at shearing time in order to keep it. (I'm reminding myself of this, because I still find it scary to take it all off, even though I know it will work out in the end, it's scary). With all this in mind, our aim for shearing was a cut back sleek look.

For our shearing we decided to turn our garage into our shearing station. We set up a pulley system to tie down the alpacas so they do not get injured during shearing. Note that there are two loops on each side of the pulley system, one loop for each of the alpaca's legs. Here is our garage, ready with a mat in the shearing station, a tarp and pulleys ready to go:

We thought the tarp would help keep the garage dirt off the fiber and would be easier for us to clean up the fiber. As it turns out, the tarp was not a good idea. The alpacas would slip and slide on it. And, worse yet, the fiber stuck to it with static. After shearing our first alpaca, we took the tarp up and did not use it again. So for future reference, don't use a tarp.

We set up a weigh station so we could weigh the alpacas before shearing and again after shearing. This is most important for a breeding male. Knowing the male's shearing weight and blanket weight is significant when marketing him for breeding. Before we breed to a male we want to know what his blanket weight was, so we make sure we have that information for people using our males. Another nice benefit of this is that we can get a baseline weight on all our alpacas. That way if they need emergency medication, we have a recent weight on them for reference to measure out the medication. Our weigh station was a scale on the ground in the doorway to the garage:

The other essential item is having socks on hand. While it is rare for alpacas to spit, they are most likely to do so when they are fearful. Shearing can be very traumatic for them. They are caught, taken from their herd, and tied down. They don't understand that we are shearing them. Many of them go into fight or flight mode. For the ones who choose to spit, we put a sock over their mouth. That way if they do spit, it doesn't get on us. And, it actually sits right by their mouth annoying them. Some will give up spitting once the sock is put on them. Others choose to keep spitting.

See the socks sitting out, ready for use:

On Monday we managed to shear all 8 our our breeding age females (5 of which were pregnant). Overall, the shearing went better than I thought it would. They aren't perfect by any means, but definitely good enough. And I could see improvement with each one we completed. We are saving our show age alpacas for last, hoping we can do the best job on them. The two areas we had the most difficulty with were top knots and tails. But like I've said, these will both grow back, and will be fine in the end.

I'll post before and after pictures in future posts. We still have 9 alpacas yet to shear, so the story isn't over yet.

1 comment:

Kathryn Ray said...

Oh, you gotta share the before and after of the first alpaca. It's a rite of passage for all of us. ;-)

Congratulations on completing your first shearing session!

As the National Herd grows, it is more important for more people to learn how to shear. Otherwise we will have a shearer shortage.

Did you take lessons or apprentice with someone?

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