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Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Alpaca Shearing

On May 10th, we experienced our first alpaca shearing event.  We weren't sure exactly what to expect, but were educated through the process quickly and learned how to improve upon our organization for next year.

First, you need to catch an alpaca.  Will was our alpaca wrangler and he did it gracefully!

You catch one, convince them they need to step on the plywood and then you pick them up, someone gently grabs the head and pushes it down while the handler lowers the animal.  It actually can be done fairly gently.
(the picture is fuzzy because everyone is in motion!)
You need to have a spot where the alpacas can be tied; the legs are hobbled together and the animal stretched out on a mat or plywood. 
Someone needs to be at the front of the animal holding the head down and when the front legs are shorn they need to be held out and up as well.  It takes a minimum of three people in addition to the shearer to function. We actually had five.

Joanne, on the opposite side of the shearer, is collecting and bagging the fiber.  Ideally there is someone steadying the hind legs as well, like the photo below.

 While the shearer is working, others are busy scissoring tails and topknots; giving vaccinations, trimming toenails and trimming down teeth.  We didn't plan ahead about the teeth but don't have many that are overgrown but will be ready to go for next year.  
Will has the dremel tool required and I will steel myself to do it!

 It unfortunately turned cold the day after shearing and everyone huddled together in the barn for a few days.

Waiting their turn.
The final product! 

Things we learned:  
  • An unhappy alpaca can keep up a constant scream for twenty minutes.  
  • An unhappy alpaca can spit and drool regurgitated fermented gut contents for twenty minutes (this smells and looks like baby excrement). 
  • Sometimes it is necessary to learn a new skill like suturing a big cut and it is okay to feel discomfort.
  • It is good to work with people that you like because you are in close quarters with one another

Things to improve for next year:  Ear plugs might be nice for the person holding the head, keep a bunch of rags handy to sop up the alpaca spit/drool, we need more lighting in the barn, get a mat to put on top of the plywood, keep a suture kit handy for larger cuts, keep the first aid kit in the barn with you instead of running for what you need, evaluate teeth prior to shearing and be prepared to grind overlong teeth down, 
and eat lunch earlier!

It took us eight hours to shear twenty alpacas and it was a long day.  Starting earlier next year and being better prepped will keep our time down.  
We also had a set of twin lambs born just as we were going in for lunch!  

I think I was sore for days....


  1. Wow, sounds like a HUGE job what with the new skills, sounds, smells, and cuts on top of 20 animals to shear! Good for you for getting it done. Can't wait to see the lambs.

  2. The alpaca ranger needs a shave too!

  3. Like Michelle, my reaction was WOW too! So what happens now? Is there an instant market for the 'wool'? Is the 'wool' viable financially? Will you be expanding your flock?

    I've always wondered why people kept Alpacas.

    1. For the fiber! :) it will be washed and most of it processed into roving ready to be spun. The special cria (baby) fleeces I will process myself and spin.

  4. All I can say is... Uf-da! Congrats on getting such a huge job finished!

  5. Thank you Michelle and felt like a huge accomplishment!

  6. Two things, everyone who buys alpaca yarn should know this process. The price is too low.

    Is the suture kit for the four legged or two legged creatures?
    Love from Maine,

  7. Shearing is so fraught with danger, is exhausting for man and beast, is so good to be behind you! The lambing posts below are also dear. Life with animals requires a lot of loving attention. Good work!!! XOXOXO