John & Susan Merrell
41390 Hwy 226
Scio, OR 97374
503-394-3790
503-551-7219 (cell)
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Alpaca Shearing Mishaps

Alpaca shearing mishaps were inevitable, since Susan and I we were both inept and clueless about shearing when we first began. We had purchased seriously under-powered clippers and had seriously underestimated the number of ways an alpaca could find to be uncooperative. The two paragraphs of instructions in the “Clip Care” manual from the Alpaca Fiber Cooperative did not adequately prepare us for what we were about to undertake.

Round 1

We figured we would start with Quinta, a very mellow and easy to handle black huacaya. We had been told that an alpaca could be sheared in a standing position, so we were set to have at it. We enlisted the assistance of our two almost teenage sons and planned the big event. Seth would hold the halter, Susan would be positioned behind Quinta, I would handle the “shears” and Nic would gather the fleece as it came off the alpaca. Sounded good.

First cut, from the back of the head, straight down the spine to the tail. That fleece was thick, but all went according to plan. Quinta is doing fine. (“Boy, this is easy,” I was thinking)

About halfway down the first side everything was still going good. Nic had an armload of fleece (which was nicely coming off in one piece), and I was merrily cutting away. That is when Quinta decided she’d had enough of this nonsense. So, she just walked away. There is Nic standing in place with a good fifteen feet of fleece streaming out from his arms across the barn floor over to Quinta, where the other end remained attached to her side.

Round two

Regroup. Reposition. Start again...

Quinta had really had enough of this. Now she cushed. We followed her, so she stood up again. She decided she just would not stand still. We forced her to a wall. She still resisted. It was not clear who was orchestrating this operation at this point and tempers were beginning to flare. Quinta ended up wrestled to the ground with Susan, Nic and Seth trying to physically hold her in place and me frantically trying to take off any fleece I could reach without cutting the arms and hands that were in my way...

Quinta looked like the surface of a waffle iron. Her fleece had come off in clumps, each a different length.

Other than a few bruises sustained from the barn floor and flailing alpaca limbs, nobody was hurt. Quinta had a truly bad hair day, best being described as looking like a poodle that had been run through a blender. We were done for that day...

Round Three

“Let’s try Tucker.” Tucker was our gelded male who was tall and lanky, but almost as mellow as Quinta. I swear, the two of them had conspired overnight. He immediately began cushing, standing, cushing, walking away, cushing, etc. Same scenario as the day before. Same results. Tucker had the same waffle iron look. Maybe we could start a new fad?

That night I called for advice. I surfed the net for advice. I could not get anything useful, just platitudes - “Go with the animal,” “Just do a bit at a time.” No help here.

We contacted a professional. Fifteen bucks an alpaca... plus travel time. Let’s see, we live in a very rural area, three hours from the nearest city of any size. Six hours travel... this was going to be VERY expensive. Passed on that idea. We’d been warned off of sheep shearers as they are used to manhandling their animals. Not a pretty sight with a rather spendy alpaca dam.

Round Four

Since we didn’t have a stud, our girls were going out to be bred. We let the professional do it there, but since they were gone we didn’t get to see the technique. None the less, that first year’s shearing was out of the way.

In the ensuing year I committed to learning a better way. Spent a week at sheep shearing school. This is a place where you pay money in order to work yourself to utter exhaustion, and then return to your motel where you lean you pants in the corner (yes, they really are that dirty), take a shower and then sleep.

I will never forget the first lesson.

The old shearer grabbed a big ewe and sheared her as he described the pattern of blows. Took him about five minutes, and then he said, “Well, grab one and get started.”

I had never even touched a sheep, let alone put one on her back.

About an hour later the poor girl wandered off, bleeding from only a couple of spots, and with the same waffle iron texture I had originally achieved on Quinta. Someone else had to catch her and trim her up, as I was still trying to straighten out my back after being hunched over for so long.

At the end of a week I sheared a ewe in seven minutes and was able to throw the fleece on a skirting table in one piece. In my mind, I was “The Man.” I returned home and ordered a new set of shears. When they arrived we would show those alpacas just how much we knew!!

 
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"A stout man in an alpaca jacket and panama hat was seated on the bare lawn, his back to the sun, reading a newspaper. He tried in vain to avoid the glare of the sun on his reading..."

D.H. Lawrence
The Trespasser
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