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

Alpacas that spend a full year running around in a pasture full of foxtails, black-berry vines and thistles will have a fleece that no amount of grooming or skirting will make usable. The best alpaca fleece comes from the cleanest pastures.

The wisest words that I have heard regarding preparation for shearing are these:

“Groom your pasture, not your alpacas.”

Make sure that sticks, evergreen needles and other small, loose vegetative matter are removed from your fields. If you don’t want it in your fleece, and it is in your field, these animals will conspire to make sure that it gets into the fleece. Trying to remove a two foot long piece of black-berry vine from the fleece of an alpaca is not a joyful experience. (We’ve had to do it!)

So, assuming that you have groomed pastures, what else does it take to prepare an alpaca for shearing. If you have been around these animals for any time at all, you know that their fleece seems to be a magnet for foreign material, especially anything placed in the feeding trough. There is almost always a handful of garbage firmly lodged in the fleece on their back at the base of their neck. Fortunately, most alpacas have a dense enough fleece that all this crud tends to ride on the surface. Relatively little will work its way deep into the fleece.

None the less, the wise alpaca owner that will not use overhead feeders.

At least week before shearing place your alpacas in a clean paddock with sufficient forage to feed them. Take them off of hay and/or alfalfa. At this point we will let gravity be our assistant. As they graze and play their days away, a great deal of the built up debris will simply work its way out of their fleece and fall to the ground. Voila, the first step to a clean alpaca.

Be sure that you alpacas are dry on shearing day. Now, we will get more intrusive. First we will hand pick the visible foreign material from the fleece. Try to get as much of the “big stuff” as you can. It really is easier to get it now than it is on the skirting table. Now, if necessary, we will get even more intrusive. We have found a “shop vac” to be invaluable. The idea here is to vacuum as much dirt and vegetable matter out of the fleece as possible. Early on we were told to use a blower, but our experience is that a blower does a couple of bad things.

It tends to blow debris deeper into the fleece, and,

It utterly destroys the fleece’s natural lock structure.

You end up with a fluffy alpaca whose fleece will not come off in one piece. You also end up with dull blades on your shears, since all the dirt and sand is now at skin level.

With a good shop vac and some patience you can get an amazing amount of that crud out of the fleece before you ever get near the shears. Skirting will be much easier.

There is another trick though. use a length of 3/8 inch wooden dowel or plastic pipe to “comb” the alpaca. Start at the bottom and comb upwards. The locks will separate along their natural lines, exposing the hidden portions of the fleece. Follow the dowel with the head of the vacuum as you brush up the sides and neck of the alpaca. The dowel comb will not only separate the locks, but will help to gently work those flakes of grass and seed loose, and the vacuum will quickly devour them. The other thing that is happening here is that all the dirt that has accrued over the past year is being worked out. This is important. That dirt is the primary factor in dulling your blades.

Figure that it will take two people 10-20 minutes cleaning each alpaca prior to actually shearing them. This is time well spent. When you are done, give your alpaca a short break. They tend to dislike the noises and sensations associated with being vacuumed.

(Note:  Since originally writing the above we have paid a lot more attention to grooming our pastures.  The result is that we have not had to vacuum an alpaca in at least 5 years.) 

 
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