Shearing our Alpacas
Why should alpacas be shorn?
Shearing alpacas is an important part of their care and maintenance and it is best done annually.
Unlike cats and dogs, alpaca do not shed their fleece naturally, and as it grows quite long they need to be shorn regularly.
Here on our farm, we typically shear in spring or early summer, before it gets too warm. Our sub-tropical summers are generally hot, humid and wet, so a shorter fleece is optimal for the health and wellbeing of our alpacas. This schedule allows the fleece to grow back for winter to help keep them warm.
How alpacas are shorn
Alpacas a typically shorn lying on their side, sometimes on the floor but more commonly on a specially built table. The alpaca is lifted onto the table and laid on their side, they are then tethered to keep them still and to avoid injury to both themselves and the shearer.
Pandora is our eldest alpaca and is quite used to being shorn and always remains calm
To help make shearing day go quickly and smoothly, we like to have a few people on hand to help the shearer.
We each have our own predetermined set of jobs and this makes the whole process run smoothly.
I like to be the one to hold the alpaca's head after they've been secured on the table. If the animal is at all stressed, I can hold their head snug to my side to help block out noises and I'll place my hand over their eyes so they can't see what's happening. This helps keep them calm, especially the younger ones.
Once the first side has been shorn, the alpaca is then flipped over to shear the other side. Depending on the shearer, some like to clip along the backbone first before turning the alpaca over to the other side to complete shearing.
A Pedicure and some Preventative Care
Whilst they are on the table, their toe nails are clipped and they receive their annual 5 in 1 vaccination. This vaccine helps protect against common dieses such as pulpy kidney, tetanus, black disease, blackleg and malignant oedema.
How long does it take to shear an alpaca?
It takes around 6-8 minutes to shear an alpaca, so it's over and done with quickly, and with the right shearer, causes very little stress to the animal.
Sorting the fleece, the good, the bad, and the ugly
Once shorn, we sort the fleece into three sections. The best part, called the saddle, comes from the mid-section of the alpaca and this is what is considered the premium part of the fleece.
The fleece around the outside of the saddle tends to be a little coarser and shorter so is generally unsuitable for processing into yarn. We keep this aside for making our felted alpaca dryer balls.
Alpaca Dryer Balls, the eco-friendly way to cut down laundry drying time
The neck and leg fleece is usually quite short and rough, and may have thick guard hair scattered throughout. This part of the fleece is unsuitable for processing and is too coarse for felting, so we use it in the orchard as a high-nitrogen mulch. Nothing is wasted!
Preparing fleece to make Alpaca yarn
Once we've collected all the saddles (the good stuff!), we throw them one at a time onto a mesh table and give them a good shake to remove any short cuts, loose dust and debris. We then pick through by hand to remove as much vegetable matter as we can before bagging them into similar colours.
We only have 9 alpacas but this process can take two of us a couple of days to complete. When finished, we pack the bags into a large box and send it off to a small mill in Victoria for processing into yarn.
Alpaca is a fibre that provides warmth and comfort and produces some of the most delicate and high-quality textile products in the world.
Alpaca yarn is soft and light but warmer than sheep's wool, and as it's naturally hypoallergenic, it's suitable for both baby wear and those with sensitive skin. It can be knit, woven, or crocheted, and has a beautiful drape.
We re-stock our yarn once a year and it tends to sell out quickly, and unfortunately it takes another 12 months before we can grow some more!