Thursday, April 26, 2012

Shearing day

Today was shearing day! Each April, we transport our alpacas to a nearby farm to harvest the fiber our alpacas have produced.  For us, this day represents a year's worth of work and all of the possibility of what the fiber will become - yarn, roving and rugs.

Shearing day is very fun, very busy and full of hurry up and wait moments.

We started bright and early.  We had a beautiful sunrise as the backdrop for chores which mostly consisted of my dad and I standing around watching my husband put things in order for the day.  He was a man with a plan and we just needed to stay out of his way.

My dad traveled up the night before to provide an extra set of hands.  My mom met us at the farm to help with the process, too.  Most years, I have been traveling for work on shearing day which left my husband and dad to take care of things on their own.  It was great fun to have us all together.

Our shearing crew is two men from New Zealand that spend time in the United States traveling from farm to farm providing shearing service to alpaca and llama producers.  It helps to have several smaller farms meet at one location to save set up time. We borrow a trailer and that means a little extra time for loading and a little uncertainty for the alpacas - it's not everyday that they ride in a trailer.

Everyone was a little camera shy (and extra dirty from rolling in the dirt) this morning.

Meet Chaccoyo.  He is one of our newest alpacas and offers a good "before" picture.

All of our alpacas wear their halter from the moment we catch them at our farm until they are secured in the shearing area.  When we arrive at the farm, we help with set up for the shearers and the host family and then we catch two to three animals, attach the lead rope, and bring them out of the trailer.

Every person has a role - someone helps in the shearing area with holding the animal, clipping toenails, releasing and tightening the ropes, while another gathers fiber and one or two others hold animals that are on deck or transfer finished animals back to the trailer.

The alpacas are secured in a very safe and gentle way.  The primary goal is to protect the alpaca and the shearer.  Alpacas basically has two defenses - spitting and kicking and neither are pleasant when you are on the receiving end.  The shearer also does not want to cut the animal and that means that having the animal secure helps reduce the chance of this happening.

The method of securing the animal involves gently putting a padded rope around each leg and extending the front and back legs out from the animal.  Once the ropes are in place, two people lift the animal and set them on the padded shearing area and the ropes are set by a third person.

When the animal is set, the halter is removed and the shearer and a holder go to work.  The first part to be removed is the blanket.  The blanket is the fiber from the main body of the animal.  This portion is bagged separately from the neck and leg fiber or seconds. 

We have the blanket processed into yarn and roving.  The seconds are processed into handwoven rugs.

The fiber on the top of the alpaca's head and on the face is carefully removed.  Chaccoyo had a lot of fiber and it was so full this spring that he was having trouble seeing.  We had tried to give him a touch up before shearing day to help him.  Today's haircut was much more effective.

Once the last of the shearing is complete, the halter is put back on and the alpacas is released.  The shearing  process takes around eight minutes per alpaca.

I promised my mom that I wouldn't get her in any pictures.  She was an expert fiber gatherer.  That's her leg and elbow in this picture...I mostly kept my promise.

And, Chaccoyo after shearing - a new alpaca.  With our really warm temperatures, having the fiber off the boys is one way we can keep them cooler.

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