Shearing day is one of the most important days of the year for any alpaca owner. It can be a hectic and stressful time, but with the proper preparation and good teamwork on the day then we can all be running like a well oiled machine, and there's no reason why we cant have some fun as well! When shearing the number one consideration is safety for ourselves and the animals, and this is why we try to be as efficient as possible. If everybody knows their role then we can get your animals down, sheared, and up off the mat in a minimal amount of time. This minimizes stress on the animals and prevents fatigue for ourselves as well.
What do I need to prepare before shearing day?
Preparation begins the night before. If it looks like there will be rain or inclement weather for the following day, then your animals need to be in a shelter to prevent their fiber from getting wet. If your animals are soaking wet when we arrive we will be unable to shear them. It may also be a good idea to do a rough cleaning of your animals the night before to get any straw/contaminants out of your fiber. This is more for your fiber than for me as a shearer. If you plan on using your fiber or showing your blankets then they will need to be reasonably clean of debris. If you plan on administering shots on shearing day then it would be useful to have all those things ready, especially if you are scheduled for a morning appointment.
here is a list of Items to have on hand on the day:
Towels: some throw away towels are very useful for the spitting/peeing that will inevitably occur. We've all got that one girl or guy, so its helpful to be ready for their mess.
Lighting source: if the shearing area is naturally very dark this is useful to keep things well lit.sweeping brush: fiber gets everywhere, and a good broom can keep it under control.
halters/leads: only if your animals need to be moved.fleece bags: any fiber samples will need small sandwich bags, and fiber will need to be bagged according to how you want to use it.
permanent marker: helps in marking the bags for identificationrecord
chart: if you are doing shots or any herd health work and want to record this info.
Water/drinks: to keep hydrated
What is your routine upon arrival?
On the day of your appointment I will call you 15-30 minutes before I arrive so that you can get the first animals ready to be sheared. If the animals need to be moved a distance from their field to the shearing area a holding pen can be very useful. Also having some of these animals haltered and ready will make things run more smoothly when I arrive. When I arrive at the farm I will talk with you about where you would like to shear and then set up my station. A power outlet is required within a reasonable distance from the shearing area. I shear the animals on the ground and use interlocking foam pads as a cushion for the animals and my knees. The animals will be restrained with a rope restraint system. I will have everything I need for the actual shearing but there is a list of things above that can be very useful to have around.
Is there any order in which the alpacas should be sheared?
Many people like to shear from lightest animals to darkest animals, and some like to do males first then females or vice versa. Others will shear whoever happens to be closest! This makes no difference to me and is simply a fiber consideration to prevent contamination.
Do I need to do anything? Will I need helpers?
Most of the most physical work will be handled by myself and my head holding assistant. However, there is still a lot to be done outside of this and generally a couple more people will be required to do the job efficiently. for smaller farms I find the best number to be four, so usually myself and my assistant, and the owners or workers of the farm. With a larger farm I find that the more help the better because there is more animals to organize and more things going on. the handling of the animal on the mat is usually a three man task. Myself and my assistant will hold the animal at the mat while a third person, the "puller" will put the restraints on the legs of the animal and pull the rope pulley to tighten the rope while we bring the animal down. This is the most physical task that will be required of you other than the of preparing of the animals. This person will need to be up and down on their knees to put the restraints on and will need to do a bit of pulling to get the rope tight. This person or a fourth person will also handle the fiber collection. It is VERY important that this person listens to me while I am shearing and does not reach in to collect fiber until the shearing handpiece is safely away from their hands. These machines are very sharp and can cut a person very badly, and this is one of the biggest safety considerations that I take very seriously. I will let the person know when it is safe to take each section of fiber and after a couple of animals we will all be working smoothly and safely together. It is useful but not necessary to have another person preparing the next animal to be brought out, but if your holding pen is next to the shearing station then this is not a big issue.
Do we need to provide food or accommodation?
If we are shearing all day then food and drinks are appreciated so that there is no time spent going out for lunch. Wholesome light foods such as sandwiches and fruit are usually the best, (but beggars cant be choosers!). If you've ever tried repeatedly bending up and down after a huge lunch then you'll know why! Breaks will usually happen during blade changes and will be about 5-10 minutes, this gives everyone a chance to rest for a minute and use the toilet if need be, but not too much time that we lose our groove. As for accommodation, this is not expected but if yours is the last farm of the day then it would be greatly appreciated. Myself and my assistant are used to some pretty rough conditions and even a spot in the barn or a place to pitch the tent would be happily accepted. This helps to keep my costs reasonable by cutting down on expenses. Again, this is not expected.
here are some frequently asked questions regarding shearing alpacas.
Shearing of Pregnant Females:This is one of the most frequently asked questions during booking. Most of the females shorn during the shearing season are pregnant. They have been shorn when they’re over due, on the day they’re due, weeks before etc. If we were to give you a percentage out of the thousands of females that are shorn every season, about 90% are pregnant. Of course, if you still have any questions regarding the health and safety of your pregnant females, you can always talk to your vet or other owner’s who have worked with our shearers in the past.
Shearing of cria:Cria shearing is a wonderful thing. Your baby gets rid of the amniotic fluid from his/hers fleece so when you shear them as a yearling you will have a staple without sticky ends. This is, again, a personal choice for all breeders. Yes we do put them down in the ropes: they struggle just as much as an adult. Of course they don’t have to be stretched that hard, but firmly enough to keep them still. Always keep Mother right there so when baby gets up they can re-acquaint with each other. We haven’t heard much feed back of mothers not accepting their baby’s after shearing. Shearing of Suri cria is not as common as Huacayas due to the difference in fleeces, but could still benefit from shearing.
Shearing Llamas:I shear llamas in the same fashion as alpacas. They will be put on the mat and sheared with the same tools. If you would like a special llama cut let me know what you want before hand so I don't cut off what I cant put back.
Socks for Spitting and Asphyxiation concerns:This approach to eliminate fiber contamination has been very successful. Again, out of the number of animals shorn every season, we have not heard of any trouble with animals asphyxiating. They need to be average length as we all know that these animals can and do seem to produce endless amounts of that lovely green slimy spit. Not surprisingly, they can fill up. It’s also not a good idea to use socks withholes. I know no explanation is needed.
Show Blankets:If you want a show blanket done, then you will need something to put it on. I find a table plastic picnic style table cloth to be very good for this, but any large sheet of cloth will work. Let me know which animals will need show blankets done before I start shearing. Hopefully that answers any questions you may have, or maybe its just created a bunch of new ones! If you do have some questions please feel free to contact me with them by email.