What did you do last Wednesday? I helped to shear 69 alpacas.
Rick and I have been talking about getting a couple of alpacas for several years. Alpacas, in case you didn't know, are a "domesticated species of South American camelid" (from Wikipedia - so it must be true). In other words, they are smaller and less stroppy cousins of llamas. Originally from the Andes region of Peru, Bolivia, and Chile, they were domesticated thousands of years ago by the indigenous South American people for their fiber. In recent years, they have been imported to North America and are now bred throughout America and Canada.
Rick getting a smooch from Vader.
Alpacas are charming. On top of lovely silky fiber that makes great yarn, they have big dark eyes with long lashes, sinuous necks, and soft noses. They are inquisitive and friendly, and they also hum - an almost continuous, low, musical noise that, like a cat's purring, is soothing and sweet. (Fun fact - alpaca babies are called crias.) There are two breeds: huacayas, who have fluffy fiber sort of like a sheep; and suris, who have long silky dreadlocks and look like the Bob Marleys of the camelid world. We are in the process of adding two suris to our menagerie.
Huacaya alpaca Suri alpaca
We have been very fortunate in meeting Alan and Patti Anderson, owners of Wild Rose Suri Ranch in Havre de Grace, MD. They raise some of the finest alpacas in the country. Anything you want to know about alpacas, ask them. In our on-going quest to learn more, we helped out with shearing day at the ranch. Well, I helped out; Rick had to work and only showed up later in the afternoon. By then, I was Alpaca Woman, with the aching muscles to prove it.
Hanging out at Wild Rose Suri Ranch
Shearing alpacas is more complicated than shearing sheep, who basically get knocked down and sat on for the few minutes it takes to give them a haircut. Alpacas are not about to cooperate with this kind of nonsense; plus, they can kick and, as everyone knows, they can spit (although they mostly just spit at each other and will only spit at people when they are scared). They also can scream. Not bray, baa, neigh, or moo - shriek as if they are being stabbed with hot knives. Imagine a five-year-old throwing a tantrum combined with a cat getting its tail stepped on and toss in a little howler monkey, and you'll get the idea. So they need to be roped, tied, stretched out, and rolled. This doesn't hurt the alpaca, and it makes everything much easier on everyone. Here's the process below:
First, soft ropes are tied around all of the animal's legs.
Then, the ropes are pulled taut - this doesn't hurt the animal, and it keeps him from kicking.
Next, the alpaca is sheared with electric clippers.
All finished! (Note the sock on this guy's nose. Bad spitters had to wear an athletic sock for the duration.)
The head shearer this day was a man named Paul from New Zealand. When he wasn't singing at the top of his lungs to Rod Stewart and Creedence on the CD player, he was announcing to all and sundry how much he hated his job. But hate it or not, he and his assistant Tom were very very good at it. The fleece is collected in three bags: one holds the blanket, which is the finest fleece from the animal's back; another holds the neck fleece; and the rest goes into a "thirds" bag - still usable, but not the prime stuff that wins prizes. The whole process, from the time the animal is led into the shearing area until it walks out with a new hairdo, takes less than five minutes.
Patti Anderson collecting a blanket for show judging.
We worked from 9:00am until about 6:00pm, with about a hour break for lunch.Sixty-nine alpacas. No joke. I could hardly walk the next day, but it was worth it in the knowledge I gained and the amount of bragging I can do now.
Whaddya mean, "Only 40 more to go!"????
I'll let you know when our alpacas are in residence. Now that I've helped shear a herd of 'em, shearing two isn't even going to make me bat an eyelash.
Alpacas, post- and pre-haircut.
Crias, checking out the visitors.
Sequoia has dinner.
Lena did not appreciate her day at the salon.