Shearing

tn_258As alpacas have been domesticated for thousands of years and bred for their fiber, these animals have to be shorn. They won’t shed their coat automatically. It is common practice to shear them once a year after first shearing. First shearing can be done 3-4 months old, depending on the season of course. It is better to shear the crias earlier rather then later, because the fine fiber is like Velcro, everything will stick to it and will damage the beautiful soft fleece.

After one year the fiber has grown about 9-12 cm. Alpacas that are shorn after 18 months or 24 months will have very long fiber of up to 20 cm. This fiber usually is very fragile on the outside, tips will break off because of sun damage and dirt and dust due to the habit of rolling. It is not a good idea to have it grow so long, as carding machines will have the greatest problem with these fleeces.

Before shearing the animals have to be cleaned up. Take out as many sticks, seeds and weeds as possible. It is easy to do when the fibre is still on the animal. Once the fleece is shorn it is difficult to get material out. A hairdryer can be used to blow dust out before shearing.

There are two different ways of shearing, electrical or with the good old blades! The choice is yours but there are different reasons to use one of the two ways.

Electric shearing is fast. It may take an experienced shearer about 10 minutes. The fiber gets shorn off close to the skin leaving very little on. With the use of a snow-comb a bit more fiber may be left on to protect the alpaca against the sun or other elements. There will be second cuts from where the shearer passes over an area that was already shorn, and these are unable to be used.  We can recommend some shearers who are experienced with alpacas.

Shearing with the blades is more time consuming. The chance of injuries with the sharp blades is lesser than with electric shearing. An experienced alpaca clipper can do it in about 15-20 minutes. The blades leave about 2 cm of fiber on the alpaca, so you don’t get the full ”yield.”However the fiber grows back much faster.The alpaca won’t look so smooth after clipping; there will be distinct ridges. With the fiber growing back faster these signs will fade away as quickly as with electric shearing. There are a few second cuts.

We choose to have our Huacaya alpacas shorn by an experienced electrical shearer and our Suris are mostly shorn by hand clippers so that we can control the length of the fiber clipped.

Sectional Shearing

The fiber fineness on alpaca varies with where the fiber grows on the body. Therefore the alpaca is shorn in sections. Saddle (backside) or blanket first, then upper leg, apron, neck, lower leg and belly. All sections are put in separate bags and can be sorted later. If the quality and length of certain sections are about the same, these can be combined at sorting. Neck and saddle are often of the same quality, but not same length. Belly can go with lower leg, apron can go with upper leg or saddle if there is no guard hair.

Alpacas will not sit down like sheep and not stir! Some alpacas are not very enthusiastic about being handled for shearing. When we hand clip the animal is standing wearing a halter and held very firmly. When shorn electrically, we tie the legs and stretch them out. This may sound cruel but once they are in this position they realize there is no way out and give up the struggle.

There is also a shearing table on which the alpaca can be tied down. This saves the back of the shearer. With blades shearing we can shear the alpaca standing if they are halter trained. Still most of the time they will sit down, and so the first clip takes the saddle. Then the neck, after this the alpaca is rolled on its side and tied up as above to clip legs and belly.

We usually have a crew to help with shearing. There is the shearer, the fiber sorter /collector, 2 handlers and a person to assist and fetch things.

The alpacas have to be dry, cleaned up and ready to go to the shearer so everything moves smoothly. We make sure we have all that is needed in the shed, bags for the fiber, felt pens for writing, iodine for cuts and repellent for sand flies.

for shearing and alpaca maintenance contact Ross and Ralph of Aristocrat alpacas, aristocrat@nuthouse.net.nz or 09 4125000
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