Sunday, May 15, 2011

Shearing Day: The Experience

     Yesterday was shearing day at Rocaro Alpacas , something I'd been looking forward to for awhile. My husband and I had volunteered to help out so we headed out early and arrived in time for some instructions from the shearer and the owners. Once set up, we got going about 9:30 AM and worked right through until lunch, finishing all the males. Lunch was generously provided by the owners and picnic tables were outside the barn to enjoy while eating and sharing stories. There were quite a few volunteers and some young men from the Agricultural College stopped by, which was a bonus as strong agile bodies were greatly appreciated. 

There were 25 to do altogether, plus two from a neighboring farm. The first thing was to vacuum the alpaca. This made a great difference in the debris content of the fiber. There were a couple of volunteers assigned to that job. After the alpaca is weighed, it's led to the shearing mat or table if it's a smaller one, and gets a total haircut. The fleece is roughly skirted, then carefully carried to the sorting table. This table was my job. Since it was a damp day and the fleece was a little damp, I sorted it according to which animal, wrapped it in packing paper and bagged and labelled all the portions. This was a rather busy job but I soon got not one, but two helpers and things started to run very smoothly. Once bagged, it was set aside for another day to be picked and properly skirted, before it's sent away to the fiber mill in Ontario for processing into yarns and rovings. 

     After lunch we tackled the females. Some loudly protested, some just laid down and refused to move, but they were all eventually finished in good time. The casualties:  one alpaca now has purple feet from a pedicure incident which required the application of a vividly colored antiseptic. One alpaca had a nasty tick removed. One alpaca escaped but was quickly recovered. One human was knocked down. One human cut her finger. All humans have sore, tired, aching muscles. 

     While an alpaca is having it's fleece removed, another person gives it a pedicure. The owner Caroline started out doing this, but she was required to be in so many places that she taught my husband   and he took over that job, much to my surprise! Once the fleece is all cut away, the shearer checks the teeth. If they need to be ground down, he will do that before the animal is released. A second weighing is needed to determine the amount of fleece taken off the animal. 

     It was a very busy, fun and rewarding day. I got to meet some new people with similar interests, and we learned tons of stuff about alpacas. I felt a bit of sympathy for Rob and Caroline, who were trying to answer everyone's questions as well as take on some of the lead jobs. Only a small percentage of the volunteers knew anything about the job so everyone had to be instructed in what to do and how to do it most efficiently. It ran very smoothly and everyone was smiling and seemed to be having fun .... except some of the alpacas. 

     After all the farm's animals were completed, two more arrived from another farm. The owner of those two didn't want her fiber and  wondered if anyone else wanted it .... I jumped at it!!! I actually only took the fleece from one of them ... taking both was just too greedy. I couldn't be happier with my great luck there. The day wrapped up with a lovely burger barbeque, served with amazing side salads and squares ... everything homemade and delicious, eaten on the deck beside a pond and bird feeders with abundant and varied visitors. We washed the yummy burgers down with chilled dark beer and enjoyed every minute of the great meal, setting and company. Everyone was worn out and we headed for home right after supper .... both of us in bed just as it was getting dark. Today I'm hobbling around a bit, nursing some sore spots and happy as a clam with a couple of new bags of alpaca fiber to be picked and washed. Our sincere thanks to Rob and Caroline for the experience!