Alpaca Shearing Day
My friend Brandi asked if I could help out on shearing day at her Mom’s alpaca farm. Well, how could I possibly say no to such a cool experience?!
I pulled into the driveway and wandered down to the barn. The alpacas are so stinking cute! I love the floppy hair in their eyes.
Brandi explains that alpacas are sheared once a year just like sheep. The fiber doesn’t scratch like wool, and is prized for its hypoallergenic properties and warmth.
While the alpacas are tied down for shearing, they also receive their vaccinations and de-worming shots, their hooves are trimmed and their teeth are ground down. This guy has a dental issue and may need to have a tooth pulled by the vet.
The alpacas seem to think all of this is shear (ha ha) torture and they don’t cooperate one bit.
Brandi’s Mom, Rhoda, hires Top Knot Shearing to do the work each year. They travel all around the country to shear alpacas. Mats are laid down on the floor to protect the animals.
An alpaca is led in, laid down on the mat, and its legs are tied and stretched out to protect the shearers from getting kicked. To the uninitiated, the process may look like the alpacas are right about being tortured, but everything is done to protect the animals and their handlers from injury.
With the alpaca stretched out, their hooves are trimmed and their teeth are ground down. The next step is to shear the ‘blanket’ of fiber from the torso of the animal.
The blanket is the most valuable and Pete, owner of Top Knot Shearing, shears this fiber with care.
Brandi’s brother, Jason, wraps the blanket up in a sheet of plastic to protect it. The blanket is weighed and placed in a plastic bag.
Next, the ‘seconds’ are sheared and separated from the ‘thirds’ or waste (fiber that has manure or debris in it). The seconds are placed in a bag and weighed. A small sample bag is collected. A card with the name and registration number of the animal, and the weight of the fiber is filled out and everything goes into a bag to go to the fiber mill for processing.
Rhoda gives each of her alpacas their shots before they are released into their pen. The whole process is very noisy. The alpacas scream as though they are being eaten alive by wolves. The shears and tooth grinders make a lot of noise. The smell is overwhelming. Alpacas are ruminants, like cows and goats, and when they feel threatened they spit green bile and partially digested grass all over the place. Pretty nasty stuff. A sock is placed over their muzzle if they start spitting. They also pee and poop on the mats sometimes, making it necessary to clean them up to prevent soiling the fiber.
Once they are sheared they look sort of naked! Alpacas are very curious and they keep coming back to watch their herd mates go through the shearing process.
Although alpacas have beautiful eyes and they are super cute, I don’t think I would want to deal with the annual shearing ritual. I know another family that raises alpacas for fiber and meat. I’m not sure I could butcher them, they just have so much personality.
When the whole process is finished and the guys from Top Knot Shearing are cleaning up their tools, Pete asks me what I thought as a first time shearing helper. Did I think that the process was rough on the animals?
I thought that they handled the animals as gently as they could, without putting themselves in danger. Even though alpacas are not very large (maybe 200 pounds) they could really hurt a person with a well placed kick. I told Pete that it didn’t look rough or mean at all. Growing up on a farm taught me that handling livestock must be regarded with extreme caution. Farm animals can cause serious injuries! It often took two men to wrangle one of these animals into place.
I’m glad that they only needed my help with weighing the fiber, labeling the bags, and keeping track of whose fiber went into each bag. It was fun and I learned a lot!