Most alpacas are sheared once a year when it is warm and dry where they live--so in different parts of the US, it can be early or spring. Alpacas can be sheared standing up or on the ground, but many shearers prefer shearing the animals on a table--it saves the shearer's knees and back, and holds the alpaca steady to eliminate the danger of the shears. There are many professional alpaca shearers who will come to your farm, but some owners learn to shear their own animals.
We make sure the alpacas are dry before shearing day and we clean off as much vegetation as possible. We use a shop vac to suck out as much dust and dirt as possible, wand the fleece and pick off what we can by hand.
We take a sample of the fleece from the animal’s side to send off to test the micron count. The shearer we use starts on the right side of the body, then sits the alpaca upright to shear the left side of the blanket. The blanket is then put in a clear plastic bag with a pre-made label including the alpaca’s name and shearing date. Fiber from other parts of the alpaca are stored separately--almost all fleece can be used for something. (Read more about alpaca fiber!)
The next step in processing fiber is to “skirt” it--that is, remove as much vegetation, soiled fiber and short pieces from the blanket. Some spinners use that fiber directly without further processing. Alpaca fiber has no lanolin, so it doesn't need scoured like wool from a sheep.
I have a top-loading washer in my garage, so I often wash my best blankets--I fill the washer with hot water and gentle soap and let the fiber soak. Then I can spin the water out. The fiber may need a second wash and/or rinse. Then the fiber must be dried. Here's a picture of fiber sitting on a screen, drying:
I'm lucky enough to have a “drying system”—a “two-story” dryer. Above the normal drying drum there is another door opening onto shelves made especially for drying objects not to be tumbled. I lay the fiber out on the shelves and run the dryer—in less than an hour, the fiber is dry without waiting for a sunny, non-windy day!
What next? Lots of choices:
Even the crias get sheared! The picture at the top of the page are the crias after shearing in 2010.
It's amazing to see the difference between an alpaca before shearing and after shearing. When a newly sheared alpaca is put back in the pasture, the other alpacas come up to greet it as if it were a new alpaca!
Here's an example of the change: thiis Sweet Baby James before shearing;
This is Sweet Baby James after shearing:
Shearing day is a good day to perform other alpaca maintenance jobs. Alpaca feet are like dog's feet--they have a soft pad and nails that grow, so we take the opportunity to trim their toenails while they are on the table.
We check toenails more than once a year--we train the alpacas to lift their legs for nail trimming when they are not on the table.
Shearing day is also a good day to give the yearly vaccination shots. After the alpaca is sheared, finding a good place is eaiser without all the the dense fiber.