Shearing Madness

Duncan in November 06

With temperatures in the 70s and 80s in southeastern Pennsylvania this week, gardening has to take second place to a more critical spring ritual here at Hayefield: freeing “the boys” from their year’s worth of heavy fleece so they don’t pass out from the heat. It’s rather early this year: Last year, my notes say, I didn’t start until May 7. There’s always the worry that the weather might turn cold again, and once the fleece is off, you can’t very well stick it back on. It doesn’t look like cold, rainy weather is very likely any more, though, so we have to take our chances.

Shearing is not the most fun experience. It is accompanied by much spitting, kicking, and groaning, and the alpacas don’t behave all that well either. On the plus side, this is the fifth time we’ve been through this, and we’re all getting much better at it, so it’s really not all that bad. And even though they do spit some, it’s mostly “air spit,” not the really nasty, foul-smelling, green glop that they can bring up from their rumen if they so desire. I try to explain to them how lucky they are that I don’t haul them back to their birthplace an hour away, make them  hang around for hours, subject them to the indignity of being laid down, tied up, and stretched out for “proper” shearing, then haul them back home. But then, who expects animals to be grateful for anything?

Duncan and Daniel before shearing March 29 08

Above, you can see Duncan and Daniel in full, fluffy, fleecy glory as of about 3 weeks ago. I began the shearing process a few days ago, beginning with their heads and necks, using a pair of Fiskars fabric shears. The resulting look is somewhat eccentric, but it works. It took about 30 minutes total to get this stage done.

Duncan and Daniel partly sheared April 16 08

Shearing takes place in the small catch pen that’s part of their pasture. Sometimes I put one boy in the even smaller corner pen to work on him, but usually, I just tie the head of whoever I’m working on, or just let him stand free if he’s amenable. As I work, I try to drop the fleece in the tub to keep it clean, but I let the smaller bits drop.

Catch pen post shearing April 17 08

In the second session, I work on getting off the “blanket”: the nicest fiber on their back and shoulders. Duncan was not thrilled, and Daniel was a little annoyed to start, but then he kushed (laid down) and started chewing his cud, so shearing him was pretty easy. I did as much as I could, but I couldn’t reach as much as I’d have liked, because he was resting on my foot. The resulting tu-tu effect is quite stunning, I think. This stage took maybe an hour total. At this point, I bagged up all the fleece I’d collected, and it filled a large trash bag to practically overflowing.

Duncan partly sheared April 17 08

Daniel partly sheared April 17 08

Last night’s half-hour session was about the worst one, because it required careful trimming around some very sensitive personal bits. The boys were not at all amused, and my attempts to be tidy with the fleece suffered as a result, but it doesn’t matter much, because these short, choppy bits aren’t worth much. The birds seem to like them for their nests, though.

Catch pen post shearing April 18 08

Here’s Daniel modeling his pretty-much-finished look. (I still have their lower legs to do, and a little clean-up trimming as well, but they’re basically done.)

Daniel mostly sheared April 18 08

Duncan looks much tidier too. You know, I often say the two are inseparable – they had the same dad, were born 5 days apart, and have never been apart – but sometimes it’s hard to tell where one stops and the other begins.

Duncaniel mostly sheared April 18 08

Here is a close-up shot of their blanket fleece. Duncan’s, on the left, is long but a bit coarse, while Daniel’s is shorter but more dense and incredibly soft. Handling the shorn fleece is almost like picking up air.

Duncan and Daniel fleece April 17 08

Last year, I sent all of the boys’ fleece that I’d collected to date and sent it to Gwen Steege and Carleen Perkins, my editors at Storey Publishing. Besides being serious gardeners themselves, they’re also keen on fiber arts, and they made me the incredible gift of two skeins of hand-spun yarn from part of the fleece. Mom crocheted it into a hat and scarf that I treasure.

Hat and scarf from \

So, that’s the story of shearing here at Hayefield. I’m not the only one who is relieved it’s about over. I think if you asked Duncan, he’d have something to say about it too!

Duncan

15 responses to this post.

  1. We’ve been waiting for a post on the boys! Oh dear! The tu-tu effect was definitely something. I’d kick and spit too if WN decided to post pics of me in a tu-tu! BTW, WN says Duncan reminds her of Andy Warhol. –Curmudgeon

    I say the same thing about Duncan! And Daniel has kind of a Billy Idol thing going on.
    -Nan

  2. Nan, that is the most gratifying thing, to see the finished product of scarf and hat, from your boy’s shearing, your friends spinning, your mother’s knitting, and to your wearing. You are so gentle and loving with your brothers, it makes me warm and fuzzy to read the tale. Thanks. :->

    You’re so sweet, Frances. I feel pretty fuzzy too. I’m still finding bits of alpaca fleece in my hair, stuck to my glasses, and even in my keyboard….
    -Nan

  3. This was a very interesting post! Great photos!

    Thanks for visiting, Marie!
    -Nan

  4. Posted by ourfriendben on April 19, 2008 at 9:10 pm

    Ha!!! Thank God. When I saw your post title, I had a horrific moment of thinking you were shearing plants–perhaps into forsythia-style gumdrops–but ultimately had a rush of brains to the head and realized that you must be speaking of Duncan and Daniel. Given how summerish it’s been here the last couple of days, I’m sure the boys are grateful, no matter how undignified the process. (In the first head-shearing photo, I thought poor Duncan’s and Daniels’ necks looked like pipecleaners! But now it’s all proportional.)

    Considering my alpaca-shearing results, I’m not surprised you’d worry about what I might be doing to my plants!
    -Nan

  5. Maybe the boys need sweaters of their own fleece to wear if the weather turns back really cold after they are nearly naked :)

    I’d guess I’d better get busy learning how to spin and knit, just in case! No, actually, I think they’ll just have to deal with it. That’s one advantage of hand-shearing: I don’t cut nearly as close as would be done if they were sheared properly. so they still have some protection from both sun and chill.
    -Nan

  6. Hmm, sounds about as fun as pulling teeth! It would be worth it for that gorgeous final product though. WOW! The tutu affect? To DIE for. LOL.

    Oh, it’s definitely more fun than that – it just takes a whole lot of patience on all our parts. And you bet it’s worth it, if only to see them frolic like colts once it all comes off.
    -Nan

  7. Probably not so much of a fun job for you, Nan, but fun for those of us who are following along at home to see. :) So does it take a whole spring/summer/fall cycle for them to regrow that coat, or will you have to give them a trim in a few months?

    Thank goodness, Kim, this is a once-a-year event. And really, I don’t mind doing the shearing at this point. Watching their dramatics is actually kind of funny. And handling the shearing is better than having to give them their monthly shots. At least with the shearing, I’ve never drawn blood (either mine or theirs).
    -Nan

  8. I did laugh at your description of ‘kicking and spitting’ and they have such sweet faces! Who knew? Anyway, I now know where the inspiration for ET came from. A freshly sheered alpaca from the neck up although the face was wizened with age! I agree, too hot for gardening this weekend.

    Oh, don’t believe those cute faces for a second. I love the ET idea!
    -Nan

  9. I love the picture of the two headed alpaca! That does look like a lot of work. We had standard poodles when I was growing up (the big ones) and they took quite a few haircuts. My parents did that for a while but eventually transferred that job to a dog groomer. At least it’s only once a year for you!

    I had briefly entertained the idea of a non-standard shearing pattern to create a (temporary) poodle-like effect, just for the amusement value. But once I got started cutting, I just snipped whatever was in reach. It’s not an elegant effect, but it’s functional!
    -Nan

  10. Very amusing Nan. First they have the vulture look and later on they turn into topiary lama’s.

    How lovely that you have a hat and scarf of their fleece, it must be so soft and warm. It’s nice to think that your boys are keeping you warm in cold weather, literally!

    Oh my, you’ve gotten it exactly: the vulture look! It *is* lovely being able to wear the hat and scarf in winter, especially when I take the boys out for walks. People often ask “what do you do with them?”, and now I can show off what the fiber is good for.
    -Nan

  11. Their faces sure look like their camel cousins but the body more like sheep. Do they have the same habit of spitting when aggravated? I read somewhere that alpacas are used as a protector of herds of sheep from coyotes and other predators. Apparently they can be quite formidable when confronted. Are they really that nasty? I’m allergic to wool but I have an alpaca scarf which is quite nice. Now all you need are some ostriches :)

    Oh my yes, they spit, but usually not at me (on purpose, anyway; occasionally I get caught in the crossfire). I guess there are mixed opinions on using alpacas with other livestock; they may alert to predators but can’t offer much defense against them. Yes, they can be aggressive if they’ve not been handled properly, but generally, they’ll either freeze or flee. Apparently ostriches *can* be very nasty. You know, for some reason, people often confuse alpacas with emus: Oh yeah, they’re just like emus, except alpacas don’t lay eggs and don’t have wings!
    -Nan

  12. The two headed alpaca looks cool. Looks like a distant cousin of the Dr. Doolittle’s Pushmepullyou.

    Quite right, Jim, but in this case, it’s a pullmepullyou. Or perhaps just a freakish mutant alpaca.
    -Nan

  13. Nan, I complain when I have to cut my doodle’s hair. Never again, I’ll just think of you and your alpaca’s in tutus instead. Actually, Calie is overdue for a cut but I’m tempted to take her into the groomer tomorrow. It costs a fortune but running the hair dryer here for 3 hours probably costs just as much.

    Oh, good point, Melanie: At least I have only a once-a-year cut to deal with, and no other grooming for the rest of the year. I can’t even imagine trying to give one of these guys a bath. I hope Calie appreciates her trim!
    -Nan

  14. Ooh,Ahhh. They must feel great. A couple of years ago, when I was on vacation in Vermont, I visited an Alpaca farm, and treated myself to a handmade Alpaca sweater. It’s my favorite.

    I think the boys have been a little chilly recently, but they’re enjoying sunbathing at the moment, now that they can actually *feel* the sun on their skin.
    -Nan

  15. Posted by Lisa at Greenbow on April 29, 2008 at 1:30 pm

    I think Duncan is saying “thank you thank you very much.” I sort of like the feet and legs left long. You could call it the ‘poodle’ cut. Can you give your alpacas a treat for being calm? That is how I get my dog to sit still long enough to get her nails trimmed. Of course I do this much more often. It worked for me. These animals are quite beautiful. Are they just pets or do you do something with them? Do they carry your camping gear or something like that? I don’t know anything about them.

    Well, you must be able to *speak* alpaca anyway, Lisa – I love your interpretation! The boys do like Lama Treats (expensive llama-and-alpaca treats available from only one place in the U.S.), but their favorite reward is my leaving them alone. Ugh, nail trimming – that’s not a fun task for us either, but fortunately, going for walks on the roads mostly keeps their nails worn down without cutting. (Their feet are basically pads, like a dog’s, with two very large nails on each foot.) The boys are just my companions; I’m sure they wouldn’t intentionally do anything very useful.
    -Nan

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