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First Shearing (Ollie Series #8)

July 5, 2013

Alpacas are pretty low-maintenance pets, but there are a few grooming bits you must do to keep them comfortable and healthy. Not surprisingly, one of these is shearing them once a year! Shearing an alpaca (or any fiber-bearing animal) is a vitally important part of helping to prevent heat stress in summer months. There are secondary bonuses, too, in that it keeps things neat and clean, and, best of all, you can use the fiber to make things!

Shearing is a very delicate, specialized job requiring a good eye, a steady hand, and lots of practice, so it is best to have a professional do it. This is for the safety of the animal and the person doing the shearing, but it’s also smart if you want to use the fiber for something later, as, ideally, a professional shearer can separate the blanket (prime) from the alpaca in one whole piece—amazing! This is important because, if it is intact, the fiber is simply more usable, and the area on the animal where the fiber came from is more recognizable (blanket fiber versus leg fiber, for example) if it’s not all in little bits and chunks.

Fiber Guide

Photo © islandalpacas.com

Since Ollie is living now with Linda’s alpacas, he got sheared with them on May 18. The day began gray and moody…

Gloomy and Rainy

A misty, rainy morning.

(Reggie clearly knew something was up.)

Reggie Knows Something's Up

This is what it looks like when an alpaca glares at you suspiciously.

The shearers, Rodney and Jack, arrived at about 9:30. Linda had cleared a space inside the barn, and Rodney and Jack laid down a bit of equipment and then all sorts of padding to make things comfortable for the alpacas.

Ollie and Mr. Jones "Help"

Mr. Jones and Ollie “help” Rodney and Jack set things up.

Setup

The cushy shearing setup.

We did the alpacas in order from lightest fiber to darkest, so that meant that Linda’s alpacas Cassius and Reggie went first. It took about 45 minutes to an hour for each alpaca to be sheared. Each time, Rodney did the prime (blanket) first, then did the seconds and thirds (neck and legs). Jack followed behind Rodney with a pair of special scissors, doing small bits of maintenance on the head to trim some of the fiber back so they could see and also on their legs to take care of unflattering flyaways. Rodney and Jack also did some grooming of the alpacas’ toe nails and teeth, as necessary.

What's Going On?

“Mom? MOM! What’s going on? Huh? Huh?”

Before they began work on Ollie, I made sure Rodney and Jack knew that I wanted a sample of Ollie’s fiber. Samples are taken before shearing begins from a spot on the animal’s side above one of its legs, which is generally a clean area with good, consistent coverage.

After making friends with Ollie and generally working slowly and carefully so as not to alarm him, Rodney and Jack put Ollie into a position that is most helpful for the shearer (for both safety and practicality). There are several methods to choose from, and they employed a method of restraining that stretches the alpaca between two anchored points on the floor. (I know it looks a little uncomfortable, but Ollie is not being hurt and this keeps both him and the shearers safe from injury.)

Ready

Ollie is ready to be sheared! (Don’t worry, Ollie is not being hurt and this is the safest way to do it, both for the shearers and Ollie.)

I was so nervous for my little boy, as I could only imagine how strange it must be to have this done for the first time, but Ollie was pretty calm and took it all in stride. And, of course, it helped that Rodney and Jack were super-chill, very sweet, and crazily efficient. Their respect for each alpaca, especially Ollie given that this was his first “haircut,” was very evident as they worked. I am very glad that Ollie’s first shearing experience was handled by two men who afforded him as much grace and dignity as the process could allow.

With Ollie in position, first Rodney carefully shaved off a sample for me to send to a laboratory for analysis. I put it right into a plastic baggie and labeled it with Ollie’s name and the year. (Sidenote: The results from the lab came back while I was preparing this post, and it turns out that Ollie’s fiber is at a very respectable 23.8 microns, right about the middle of where an alpaca’s fiber can be in the range of micron classification—not as good as <18 microns [Royal], but certainly better than 30+ [Strong]. I will have a sample taken every year so I can see how Ollie’s fiber changes over time.)

Taking a Sample

Rodney takes a sample from Ollie’s side.

Then, it was time to get working on the rest of him! I took a video of Rodney shearing Ollie’s blanket, so you can see how it looks like a flooowing river as it is removed all in one piece.

 

(Can’t see the video? Click here.)

Rodney was very careful to be even, following the contours of Ollie’s body. He and Jack worked together to make sure that Ollie’s facial hair was sheared in a way that worked well with his face, trying to make Ollie look as aesthetically pleasing as possible during this awkward stage. They left the top of his head alone except for a bit of a buzz to take a small amount of length off, as that part grows more slowly (if you take it off completely, it takes two years for it to grow back!).

Ollie's Blanket

See how Ollie’s blanket flows from his body like a river in a single piece? So pretty!

As things progressed, Jack was able to sort of follow behind Rodney as he worked, trimming flyaways from Ollie’s legs with scissors. I even got to help with the trimming, learning a lot just in that short time. (Apprentice Shearer Jillian has a nice ring to it!) Pretty soon, all of Ollie’s fur was about a fourth of an inch long (a lot shorter than it used to be!) and it was time for him to be set free…

All Done!

Once done, Ollie stood up shakily and was freeeeee!

Think of how much lighter and snazzier you feel after a haircut! It’s the same for alpacas. Ollie wobbled over to Cassius, spending time with him as Rodney and Jack cleaned up the work area to prepare for Mr. Jones. I know Ollie is the same alpaca he was before he was sheared, but he really looks totally different. 🙂

Newly Sheared Ollie and Cassius

Ollie and Cassius hang out. Don’t they look spiffy?

Before we knew it, Mr. Jones was also done with his shearing, and it was time to let everyone out in the yard. While we had been inside, the weather changed to be sunny and warm. Linda let me open the door to release them, and they trotted into the yarn and beyond… (Isn’t Ollie’s prominent white neck stripe so cute?)

Out Into the Sunshine

All done with shearing, the herd heads out into the sunshine.

Let’s take a look at the four boys now that they’ve been sheared and compare them to pre-shearing…

Before Shearing

Before shearing!

After Shearing

After shearing!

Adorable! And so much more comfortable for them. There was lots of smelling of each other and getting to know everyone again because they don’t just look different to us, they look different to each other, too!

Look Out World

“Look out, world, here I come!”

So, now that I have all this fiber, what will I do with it?

Good question!

Tune in next week to find out and participate in a very special giveaway. 🙂

 

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