JULY 21, 2023
Shearing happens once a year and it took place quite late this year, at the beginning of this month – July.
Alpacas are large creatures (especially ours, for some reason) so they need to be tied down very securely to stop them from being nicked by the shearing blade. The two shearers have to be very strong and get them assertively but gently to the ground and put loops of rope around their ankles, and stretch the front and back legs away from each other. At first sight it, might look cruel and it’s not their favourite thing, but it’s not cruel and they must be kept completely still to avoid an accident and them getting hurt. If handled well by a good team, it is perfectly safe for the animal and the shearing takes only 5 to 10 minutes for each animal. Also, what I feel makes a good shearer is calmness – animals pick up so easily on humans’ emotions and that can make them panic and become more stressed, as well as affecting the way the fleece is removed from the creature.
In the shed waiting to be sheared.
It’s a good time to be able to check over one’s animals and make sure their general health is in good order because, once sheared, one can see the shape of their bodies and their skin so much more easily. Their fleeces are a good 8cm deep by the time this annual activity comes round – it’s great to put one’s hand into this soft warm coat! But it also makes them more vulnerable to horseflies etc, so I make up a spray with natural ingredients and spray them when flies are very active. They love willow leaves, so once the job is complete I make sure they get a treat. I also put Sudacream (yes what most people use on their babies’ bottoms) on dry or sore skin if I find any – it works a treat!
The shearer will also check the animals over, cut their toenails and grind their teeth if required. One of ours needed this this year!
Out of our five alpacas, only three had fleeces good enough to make into yarn last year – so it will be interesting to see what the mill thinks of them this year. This was due to the two oldest boys’ fleece having too large a variation in staple/fibre length running through it and thus making it very difficult to spin – so these were made into rovings, which I can still use to make certain pieces of work. The breeding of an alpaca, the food/nutrients they get, the weather and the age can have a strong influence on the quality of fleece. Our two oldest are now 14 years old and 15 to 20 years is a good age for an alpaca, although I do know of one that is 24.
After shearing – you can see how evenly the shearing blade has been run along his back.
It is most important that the shearing blade runs close to the skin to enable the full length of the fibre to be kept intact for the best processing – this is another reason to make sure they are still. Only the body fleece is used to make the yarn (and rovings). It’s sheared off each animal first and kept separate. The leg and neck fibre I use as mulch, a bit in the compost, but it doesn’t break down very quickly and I hang some up in a bird feeder in spring so birds can line their nest with it. It is particularly funny to see jackdaws with white moustaches flying away to make their homes!
So now it is my turn to work on the fleeces. I check each animal’s body fleece separately and remove as much as possible vegetation (I have found this process is made so much easier by getting the alpacas into the shed a good while before the shearer arrives and running my fingers through their coats to get as much debris out as possible whilst it’s still on their backs), remove any short bit of fleece and vacuum pack them separately ready to be taken to the mill.