fibre

From Fluffy to Skinny – Shearing the Alpacas

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Fozzie and UkiOur two new alpacas are so very sweet, and even though I’m no alpaca expert, I could tell they were in need of shearing. I mean, look at how fluffy they look (especially Fozzie, the brown one)! I knew that they needed to be sheared soon so they’d still have time to grow a warm coat before winter.

I knew there was an alpaca farm nearby, so I called and introduced myself. I had a great chat with one of the owners, Leanne, who gave me the name and number for the couple who shears their flock to see if I could arrange to take ours there. She mentioned it would be “quite a drive,” but when I called and got directions, I realized it would only be about a 2 hour drive. Not far at all! A little farther from the alpacas’ perspective, perhaps. đŸ™‚

Darren and I got up early to load the alpacas into my dad’s horse trailer. Since they aren’t exactly tame, it was easy enough to slowly chase them into the holding pen. When we get too close, they back away, and that’s how you chase an alpaca slowly! They were a little more stubborn about stepping up and into the trailer, but with some patience, we got them in. After that, I was on my own, as Darren had to go to work. So, I headed out and after a significant detour due to construction on the highway, I was surprised to see this:

landscape near Donalda

I had no idea there were badlands so close! Even though I grew up on the farm, I had never been to this part of Alberta and it was like having a little adventure!

When I got to the shearer’s farm, they wasted no time in getting started. They use a shearing table, as most alpaca shearers do. Now, animal lovers (which I am) and animal-rights people (ditto), please do not freak out over these pictures! Although the alpacas are restrained, they are not uncomfortable and not as “stretched out” as they look! This is the best way to do it, so that they can’t wiggle around, or in some cases, kick; this makes the shearing safe and efficient for both the animal and the shearer. I researched and considered the kindest way to get the wool off the alpacas, and I believe this is it.

Uki before shearingHere’s Uki in the trailer before shearing. Look how long her bangs are! Poor girl could hardly see! I tried every day, with a pair of sharp scissors in my back pocket, to sneak up to her to trim her bangs, but she would not let me close at all. Maybe she sensed I had something up my sleeve?

The first step when we arrived was to put harnesses on them. Then, they led Uki to the shearing table, which is vertical to start out. We put a series of straps under her belly and lifted her feet off the ground and then slowly tipped the table to the horizontal. Then, her head (via the harness) and legs are attached with straps to the table. Here she is what it looked like.
Uki being sheared

As the shearer, Denise, worked we chatted about Uki. At this point, we had only had the alpacas for a week, but in that time, I had noticed that Uki might be pregnant — the shearer confirmed this! She is due to give birth any time within a month — that’s all we can say. It could be tomorrow, it could be the end of July! Since the previous owner never mentioned her being pregnant, I assume that it was not mentioned at the sale either. Perhaps the seller did not know, or the info was lost at the auction, but whatever the reason, she’s going to have a baby (called a cria) soon!! Denise, even said that I might have find a cria in the trailer when I get home! I’m glad that didn’t happen, but it really could be any day!

I have to say at this point I am so excited!! This is going to be so fun! I have seen pictures of cria and they look so adorable. According to my research, alpacas usually give birth during the day and rarely need help doing it — unlike sheep who often give birth in the middle of the night and need help along the way. So, I will keep you all posted as soon as the little one comes along!

Fozzie before shearingWhile Uki was being sheared, Fozzie let us know he was not happy with the situation. He was concerned, I think, that they would be separated. Once he realized they weren’t, he settled down a little. Alpacas are herd animals, and aren’t comfortable on their own.

I am amazed how much fibre (that’s fancy-talk for alpaca wool) Fozzie had!

He settled in quite well on the shearing table and his “wool” came off in amazing, blanket-like piles. In fact, the most valuable part of the alpaca fibre is called the blanket.
Fozzie being sheared

I know, Fozzie looks a little wide-eyed in that picture! Although it looks a little crazy to us common folk, this really does seem to be the best way to shear most alpacas. If mine were exceptionally tame, I might try to shear them myself one day, standing up, but letting a professional do it means that they won’t get nicked by the shears, and also means that I won’t be stressing them out for half a day!

What do I plan to do with the bags and bags of fibre I got? Well, as some of you know I love to knit, so I plan to make it into yarn. I guess that means I have to learn how to process the fibre and spin it! This is going to be fun! I always enjoy learning a new skill, and if I can knit the end result into a gorgeous pair of mittens at the end, woo hoo! I am very excited!

Back home again, several pounds lighter, and happy to be cooler and feeling the breeze!
alpacas after shearing
It’s hard to see, but Uki is definitely a little round-of-tummy, especially compared to Fozzie. There’ll be a little one any day!

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