John & Susan Merrell
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Scio, OR 97374
503-394-3790
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Shearing Equipment

To shear an alpaca, you must first understand the tools, in this case power shears, combs and cutters. This will help to ensure the safety of your alpacas and yourself.

PowerShear

Power shears have three basic parts - the handpiece, the comb and the cutters. Commercial sheep shears, having a powerful electric motor attached to the ceiling (see photo at left), are not recommended for alpaca shearing. Due to their size, alpacas are not easy to manipulate, and a stationary motor attached to the handpiece by a downshaft requires that you bring the alpaca to the shears. Difficult at best.

Portable electric shears have the motor inside the handle of the handpiece. There are a number of models available, but it is important that you purchase a heavy duty, commercial model. To base your purchase on cost alone is false economy. Alpaca fleece is relatively dense, and alpacas are large. Inferior shears will wear out quickly. Expect to pay $250-500 for a good set of electric shears.

Comb1

The comb attaches to the nose of the handpiece by two screws, which allows you to adjust its position. The flat, ground side faces up, away from the alpaca. The purpose of the comb is to enter and separate the fiber on the alpaca, while providing the surface against which the cutters cut. Combs come in a variety of configurations - 9 tooth, 13 tooth, goat combs, sheep combs, etc. Each offers its own pros and cons. Combs generally cost $15-35 each. One comb will shear 2 or 3 clean alpacas before it dulls.

Comb2

More teeth on a comb generally mean a cut closer to the skin. At first, this may seem contrary to logic, but visualizing how the shears work will make it clear. As the cutter moves across the surface of the comb it comes in contact with the fleece. The fleece is pulled up into the mechanism before it is actually cut. (Anyone who has ever used an electric razor has experienced this “pulling,” especially if the razor had dull blades.) Fewer teeth on a comb mean that more of the fleece is further away from the cutting edges of the comb and cutters, thus leaving more fiber on the alpaca. The number of teeth have little influence on the safety of the comb. (We will discuss injury from shears later.)

Clipper

Goat combs are made with their teeth lying parallel to each other, and have a convex, or prow shaped, profile. They tend to separate the fleece as they enter it, much like a boat moving through water. They can lend themselves to second cuts because they do not do a good job of gathering the fleece at their edges. They are, however, easier to maneuver around angular body areas (knees, hips, etc). Shearing with goat combs takes longer because the shearer must be sure to overlap each stroke (blow) in order to remove all of the fleece.

Sheep combs have teeth that are flayed away from each other and have a concave profile. They are made in both left and right hand models. A sheep comb gathers the fleece as it moves through it, and is therefore significantly more efficient. However, they can be difficult to use on angular body areas, or in areas where there is a lot of loose skin.

cutter

Cutters generally have 4 points, triangular protrusions, and attach to the handpiece by way of four “fingers” that press them firmly against the comb. Cutters are the first thing to dull, and you will probably want about 3 cutters for every comb. Changing cutters is quick, and it ensures a sharp tool. Remember, dull tools are dangerous tools. Cutters cost $10-15. You will usually need to change cutters after every alpaca.

The ground surface of combs and cutters appears flat. Actually, they are ground with a slightly concave face. This is so that the tension applied to them by the handpiece forces them into perfect alignment. If they were flat, the tension of the handpiece would force the center down and the edges would tend to separate. This is why it is important to have combs and cutters ground by a professional that has the proper equipment. (Sharpening equipment runs $500-1200.) Keep your equipment sharp for the safety and comfort of your animals and yourself.

 
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