Annual alpaca shearing

Our alpacas need shearing once a year.  Usually  we try to shear them before the end of the year but this year, time got away from us.  This was partly because we weren’t impressed with the shearer we hired last year.  There are plenty of shearers out there but most of them are sheep shearers, not alpaca shearers.  Sheep shearing and alpaca shearing involve different animal handling techniques.  Alpacas are also much larger than sheep.  As to the cost, a larger animal, that needs extra handling, takes longer to shear therefore the rate paid per alpaca is much more than the rate paid per sheep.

I’ve been to plenty of rural shows where they demonstrate sheep shearing.  Generally these shows also have alpacas.  I never understood why they didn’t demonstrate alpaca shearing.  After participating in alpaca shearing, hearing the noise etc, I can understand why there is no alpaca demonstrating – it’s not a pleasant experience.

Alpacas need to be dry for the shearing.  Unfortunately, it rained the day before the shearing and we had to round them up and lock them into stalls. I didn’t like having them confined in such a small space overnight but it was necessary and they were nice and dry for the shearing.

alpacas

It took two of us to man handle each alpaca out of the stall and into the shed for shearing.  The shearer, aptly named Bruce, then tied up the alpaca in what looked like a torture device.  They’re too big to shear against your body as you would shear a sheep.  We also covered their heads with a towel to avoid them spitting at us.  Alpacas generally don’t spit very much but it is one of their defence mechanisms when they are stressed.  Shearing certainly counts as a stressful experience!  Some also make so much noise that if you were walking past the shed, you’d swear that they were being tortured.

alpaca shearing

After shearing, their toe nails were clipped.  Some of the toe nails were quite long but others were relatively short.  Then it was onto the teeth and tusks (I didn’t even know alpacas had tusks!).  It’s pretty gruesome watching an alpaca have it’s teeth ground down.  I don’t like the dentist at the best of times but I just couldn’t watch alpaca dentistry.  The smell was also pretty off putting and I wasn’t standing that close.  Finally, each alpaca was given their injections and drenched.

We bagged the fleece of each animal and there are now many bags stored in the garage. I still have untouched bags of fleece from last year. I have a lot of spinning ahead of me!

alpaca

The alpacas look so scrawny after they’ve been shorn, not at all like their usual fluff ball self.  But they will be much more comfortable in the warmer weather without layers of fleece.

We were very happy with Bruce the shearer.  He was patient with the alpacas and explained exactly what he was doing.  If possible, we will use Bruce again next shearing season.

Alpaca scarves and beanies

alpaca1Majacraft spinning wheel copyIt’s nearly that time of year when you need a nice warm beanie or scarf to ward off the chills of winter.  Alpaca fleece is incredibly warm, soft and it’s not itchy.  Alpaca fleece comes in a natural colours ranging from white, fawn, beige, brown, grey and black.

I bought my first 6 boy alpacas in September 2010 as paddock munchers but also hoping to one day learn to spin their fleece. I learnt to spin the following year by going on a short course and received my Majacraft spinning wheel for Christmas.  I love my spinning wheel – it’s made out of New Zealand Rimu and is a double treadle wheel.

Currently, I have 19 adult alpacas and 9 cria (baby alpacas).  Clover, my first cria, was born in July last year and it was an exciting moment to see a newborn in the paddock. My family take turns naming these adorable furry bundles.

alpacas3

alpaca2So many alpacas create a lot of fleece waiting to be spun.  First, I card the fleece.  Carding separates and straightens the fleece to make spinning easier.  Next I spin the fleece by drawing it rhythmically into my spinning wheel to form one continuous yarn which is wound onto a bobbin.  When I have two bobbins full of yarn, I spin the two yarns together to ply them.   I then wash the finished yarn to remove all the dirt and set the ply.  Alpacas love to roll in dirt patches so their fleece is pretty dirty.  I either knit up the yarn as it is or sometimes I’ll dye white fleece to create a more colourful scarf.

It’s very satisfying when I complete a beanie or scarf knowing that my alpacas provided the fleece.  A large range of scarves and beanies are available at the gallery all throughout the cold months. Who will you choose to wear? Perhaps a black scarf from Sarge? Or maybe you’d prefer fawn from Moptop?

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