It’s shearing time at UK Alpaca….
Our friend Rachel, from UK Alpaca, tells us all about shearing time in her guest blog post this week. This just of the long process that ends with the gorgeous alpaca yarn on your needles!
Our shearing station is set up in the fibre barn. It is a big soft mat and two sets of ropes anchored to the wall. The alpaca comes in and stands on the mat while one of us puts a loop of rope above each ankle. One person pulls the ropes taut, another holds the animal’s head and the alpaca descends gently to the floor.
You can’t shear an alpaca like a sheep, as they have longer legs and a very strong neck, so most alpaca shearers do what we do or use a shearing table (similar idea but less bending!).
The shearing hand piece is the same as a sheep shearer but often the combs and cutters are slightly different. You also have to oil the hand piece, as there is virtually no lanolin in the fleece – unlike the grease that keeps things oiled when sheep shearing.
Teams of alpaca shearers come over from Australia, New Zealand and the USA, but there are local ones too. We have trained our stockman Ondrej to shear, so he does ours and goes out locally to earn some extra money contract shearing.
Ondrej’s colleague Marketta works with him. She is the head girl, the toenail trimmer, the bagger of fleece and sorts out the teeth should they need grinding back.
First of all the shearer takes off the ‘blanket’, the fleece on the body of the animal which should be the best. Once that is off and on the grading table – I’m the grader – he goes on to the less good bits – the legs, tail, head and neck (although in younger animals the neck is often top class as well).
We also take a sample midside, which we send off for analysis. This will tell us how fine and consistent the fleece is and is a very useful breeding selection tool. We can track how long a particular alpaca stays fine: They all get coarser with age, but you want that process to be as slow as possible.
Weighing each blanket also tells you what weight of fleece that animal is cutting and its relative density. Fineness and density are the watchwords.
It is a serious business, as it is a wonderful fleece so it is absolutely crucial that none of the less good fleece contaminates the really good stuff and that the shearing mat is scrupulously clean.
For that reason, you always start with white alpacas, then fawn, brown, grey and black hoovering up between each animal and even more rigorously between each colour. When UK Alpaca buys in fleeces from other breeders, the grader – moi – loses her temper if there are other coloured bits in the fleeces from the shearing mat – admonitory letters are written!
So far, we have fleeces from three other farms in the barn waiting to be graded. By the end of the summer, however, more than 70 farms will have sent in their fleeces and we’ll have over seven tonnes of fibre to grade.
Last updated: May 27th, 2014.