Yesterday I had the opportunity to volunteer at a local alpaca farm for shearing. The day started at 7:30 a.m. with the arrival of the Iowa-based shearing team. It's a father-son team that specializes in sheep & alpaca shearing. Prairie Creek has a specified Shearing Barn on the property connected to the main barn by a chuted pasture. The alpacas that were older and had been sheared in the past kind of knew the way... they younger ones had to be herded (that was FUN!)
Once the alpaca was brought into the shearing barn, two of the workers gently lifted the animal off it's feet and laid it on the ground. It's legs were then tethered and extended so that the animal would be stretched out to (1) prevent any kicking and (2) stretch the skin so that it would not get clipped by the shears. The more aggressive alpacas that spit had a tube sock placed over their snout. I had been fearing this would be much more work but it was a genuinely gentle procedure especially since most all of the females were pregnant.
A sample fiber lock was secured by the farm owner for analysis and the shearing began. The first to be taken was the "blanket" of the animal. This is the prized fiber from each side of the torso. Certain animal blankets were specially collected and will be entered into alpaca show competition. Then the secondary blanket was removed. Finally, the remainder of the animal was trimmed back and this fiber is basically considered waste though some farms do collect it and have it processed out for rugs, though it is not considered high enough quality for processing into the higher end yarns for garments or for the high-end art market of alpaca felting.
While the animal was being sheared, I moved from leg to leg inspecting and trimming alpaca toenails! Shave and a haircut? Why not a mani-pedi, as well!! Right before the animal was released and allowed to stand, I also administered a subcutaneous vaccination on those who were not pregnant.
Each animals fleece was carefully collected, weighed, and labelled.
The alpacas that this farm specializes in raising is the Suri alpaca, with long twisted locks hanging down. The colors range from white, to champagne-fawn, to cinnamon, to black. This farms also happens to have a rare light grey colored alpaca. Some of the animals are of a particular bloodline known as "Accoyo". Mr. Accoyo was a Peruvian breeder of alpacas who specifically bred the animals for fiber quality. Even without knowing much about alpacas, it was easy to spot an Accoyo animal. Superior quality fiber, heavy blanket (7-8 lbs on the primary blanket as opposed to 3-4 lbs for a non-Accoyo), and a luster and sheen that was dazzling!
For my efforts, I was given the entire fleece of one of the young males, Tchuck. A beautiful chocolate brown with cinnamon tips.
Well, this post is quite long enough! I have learned SO MUCH about alpacas in the last month and yesterday was just another layer in that education. Next up: Learning to clean and process the raw fibers to prepare them to spin up into yarn! I have secured the fiber from four animals, in total, that I will be learning and practicing on. My alpaca from Tchuck, the fleece from an Icelandic sheep from another nearby fiber farm, the fleece from a Romney sheep in Ohio that I just got off of eBay, and... one of the alpaca owners heard that I was learning to spin so he saved the fiber from his Great Pyrenees when it was sheared the day before and he gave it to me to practice with! This will certainly be my "Summer of Fiber Education" !
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