Thursday, March 26, 2009

Getting Ready for the big day- Shearing!

John Gunther and crew take off an elite "blanket" of fleece

It's hard to believe that shearing time is here again! As in the two previous years, we will have a crew from Biosecure Alpaca Shearing ( come to do it, and although I always anticipate shearing day with some trepidation, they have truly made the process much more easy and pleasant for us. We have come such a long way in our ability to prepare the animals, execute the shearing, and process the fleeces, as seen above and below. Then again, anything is better than the first few years we sheared! I would do the llamas using Fiskars scissors and then hand-shears to do strictly a barrel-cut. (In the very early years, nobody even bothered to shear llamas, barrel-cuts were all the rage!). Our favorite llama ever, Grato 1, at the All Kentucky Ag Exp at the Kentucky Horse Park, 1995?
The first year we had more than a few alpacas, I was unable to find a shearer and had only a few hours of extra help per week. Many of the alpacas that were here were newly-imported animals (read: WILD!) that we were brokering for Pan American Alpacas, and they weren't halter-trained and had been handled very little. In order to get them cool and get the fleece off, I would wrestle a halter onto them, tie them up high on the wall, and then start clipping.

One of our first alpaca females, Sweet Tiara

The fleeces weren't very clean since a lot of it fell onto the dirt floor in our only barn at the time, and due to the kicking and protests of the frightened and angry animal, it was nearly impossible to go past their upper belly area or to do around their head (hence, the poodle-looking cuts!). Paul always said the difference between a good and bad haircut is a few weeks, but I think some of those bad cuts lasted for the year! Now, there are travelling crews of experienced and trained shearers who are experts with alpacas, and we have all come a long way in knowing how to safely and quickly get a nice clean fleece off of each animal.

In several of our early years, (when we did at least have a sheep shearer come), we had an annual Shearing Day and Country Festival in the barnyard surrounding the old cabin. It was a crazy time, as we would invite vendors with crafts and food, have spinning demos and a speaker, a bluegrass band, shearing (of course), and usually about 300 people would come. We may do it again in the future now that we have our nice new barn, but inviting in the public for the busiest farm day of the year is a little bit loco.

With my parents and some of our "menagerie" at a Shearing Festiveal, 1996?

On Monday, March 30th starting at around 7:30 AM, we'll be shearing 90 alpacas. All are invited, either to help (with fleece-gathering, sweeping, etc.) or just to watch! Give me a call so that I'll have plenty of food on hand- 859-873-8352.

I've been at the barn doing extra sweeping (an extra-clean barn environment has been mandated for the past month or more), preparing the fiber bags and labels, and rethinking the "traffic flow", since all of the animals will need to be moved quickly in and out of the shearing area. In addition, I've got dinner and breakfast meals prepared for the shearing crew, who always seem to be a bottomless pit and we sure try to keep them nourished and happy! I think we're ready!!!

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