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

Alpaca Shearing is very different than shearing sheep Sheep are dumb, something that cannot be said about alpacas. Sheep are docile and submissive. The main secret with a sheep is that if the shearer keeps their feet off of the floor, they won't try to get up. After that it is all about positioning and being comfortable with the equipment. I approached the task with a new level of self confidence.

Round Five

New shears. I was now equipped with a set of Shearmasters with new goat combs and cutters. New technique. Now I knew how to control an animal. New ideas. One that was shared at sheep shearing school was to hang the cord from the shears from a pulley on the ceiling. This, I was told, would help keep it out of the way. So, I dutifully hung a pulley and string with a counterweight attached to the cord. Now we were set...

Quinta and Tucker went fairly easily. We put them on their side and held them firmly in place. Tucker sustained a small nick on a front leg, but otherwise not too bad. Yeah, you could tell they had been done by an amateur, but hey, it was better than last year. The only real untoward event was the fact that every time someone stood up they would hit their head on that stupid counterweight dangling from the ceiling. (Scratch that idea!)

Now it was China’s turn. China was a very high strung, big and strong young girl. The fight began at the sound of the shears being switched on. We ended up wrestling her to the floor where she screamed like she was being filleted alive. I mean, she was literally foaming at the mouth. At one point I had her in a classic “sheep” position - hips and shoulders on my feet tilting her feet off the ground, her legs between mine forming a nice curve to her back, which I was shearing. This is when she decided to stand up. I can still feel my inner thigh muscles tearing as she finessed me into a perfect “splits.” By the time we were done, Susan was cut, I had a perfect alpaca footprint on my belly, and China looked like the surface of a waffle iron, only she still had ALL of the fleece on her lower legs. We thought we would just trim up the legs with a pair of scissors. No go. She was so traumatized that she would not let us get near her with anything that she even slightly suspected was an implement of torture. China went off to be bred looking like someone had tried to shear her by passing her through a leaf chipper.

Alpacas 4, Humans 0

Back to school. I went to an alpaca fiber workshop where I was introduced to the idea of a shearing table and leg restraints. Some friends purchased a ready made table, which I lusted over at length. I watched a video of alpaca shearing in Peru, where the alpaca was stretched by its legs by two men while a third sheared. Something was clicking here. The legs, the legs. If only I could restrain the legs I could do this. (Actually, the legs are the secret of control with sheep too. Remember, keep their feet off of the ground.) Control of the animal is imperative. I am convinced that lacking several big strong men, leg restraints are the most effective and humane way to get “get the fleece off.”

I also learned about preparation of the fleece prior to shearing. I was introduced to the idea of using a "shop vac" to remove excessive dirt and vegetative matter.

It was finally beginning to come together. I played with designs for a shearing table. I do not do metal, so my designs were made of wood. Before I had the opportunity to build a prototype, I was able to purchase a metal table at a great price from some friends going out of the business. I call our table a "Marriage Saver."

Here you can see a restrained alpaca being sheared using a table restraint system. Besides shearing, this system can be used for maintenance care, such as nail clipping and teeth trimming, as well as for veterinary work.

 
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"And he might have been excused for feeling so; for instead of the black alpaca, Camilla now wore a simple but effectively charming toilette such as 'Hugo's' created and sold to women..."

- Arnold Bennett
Hugo, A Fantasia on Modern Themes
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