Alpacas require regular shearing not only to provide us with high-quality fiber but also to ensure their health and comfort. However, shearing can be a stressful experience for the alpaca and, if done incorrectly, can lead to injuries; to the animal or to the shearer. Here’s a step-by-step guide to ensure that the shearing process is safe and efficient for both you and your alpaca.
Preparation is Key
Shearing Day Setup: Choose a clean, flat area, preferably indoors to protect from the elements. Ensure the space is free of obstacles and has good lighting.
Equipment Check: Sharpen your combs and cutters and prepare all necessary tools. This includes shears, a shearing mat, restraints, brooms, and a vacuum or blower to keep the fleece clean. Have you fiber bags labeled and ready to be filled.
Animals Ready: It’s best to shear alpacas when their fleece is dry. Wet or damp fleece can clog the shears. If possible, keep your alpaca in a sheltered area the night before to ensure a dry coat.
Use Proper Restraints: Alpacas can be jumpy. Using gentle restraints can prevent sudden movements and potential injuries. The common method is to tether the alpaca's front and back legs, stretching them out on a mat.
Stay Calm and Be Gentle: Your alpaca will pick up on your emotions and mood. Move calmly, speak softly, and avoid making sudden or loud noises.
Shearing An Alpaca: The Shearing Process
Start with the Blanket: The blanket is the alpaca's main body and contains the highest quality fiber. Start where right front leg meets the body, and shear moving from the shoulder to the tail. Watch out of pinch points! Where the legs meet the body are sensitive areas, as well as around the animals reproductive organs. Make sure the skin is taught! If it is not, then pull tension on the skin. Have a helper rotate the animal vertically as you pass over the spine, and have them lay it down flat to finish the other side of the blanket.
Back Legs and Belly: These areas contain coarser fibers. While they’re less valuable, it's essential for the alpaca’s comfort to shear them, especially in the warmer months. In some areas of the country, it is advantageous to leave leg fiber on the animal to protect them from biting flies. Once you have done one side, have your helper rotate the animal up and over like before to shear the other side.
Neck and Head and Front Legs: Move onto the neck, being extra careful around the face and jawbone. Avoid the head if possible, as shearing there can be particularly stressful for the alpaca. Many at home shearers opt to use hand shears on the alpaca's top knot. Also make sure to shear the front legs during this stage as well. Your helper will rotate the animal up and over one last time to get to both sides of the neck and both front legs.
Last Touches: Check for uneven areas and clean them up. Ensure you haven’t left any sharp edges or tufts that could catch on fences or other obstacles. Now is also the time to trim your alpaca's nails, perform a dental exam, examine their body for any skin issues, and administer a dewormer or any needed medication.
Release Carefully: Once shearing is complete, gently release your alpaca's restraints, allowing it to stand up and shake off.
Monitor: Keep a close eye on freshly sheared alpacas for a few days. They might be more sensitive to the sun and cold. Consider providing additional shelter or shade.
Celebrate! Congratulate yourself on a job well done and start processing or storing the collected fleece.
Regular Maintenance: Regularly maintain your shearing equipment. Sharp blades ensure a clean cut, reducing the risk of pulling or tugging on the alpaca’s fleece. Ensuring proper tension and lubrication of your shears will make or break your shearing experience. While you are not actively cutting fiber with your shears, turn them off! When they are cutting nothing but air they will heat up quicker and go dull.
Consider Professional Help: If you're unsure or feel uncomfortable, consider hiring a professional alpaca shearer. They'll have experience and can complete the process efficiently and safely. Please fill out this Shearing Request Form to get on my schedule!
Shearing is essential for alpacas. It prevents overheating in the summer months, offers a day to inspect your animal up close without fiber, and provides us with a valuable natural resource. By following the proper techniques and ensuring the alpaca's comfort, shearing can be a stress-free experience. Always prioritize safety and the well-being of your alpacas, and you'll be rewarded with beautiful, high-quality alpaca fleece.