Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Shearing Day

So how behind am I with the blogging? Where do I start? With last Tuesday, I guess – we may as well go in chronological order. Tuesday was alpaca shearing day chez Joanne, and my first time. A good shearing is rather like an old-time bee – a lot of work, food, and camaraderie. It was a sunny, sticky day, and I was glad we were working under a roof. I suspect everyone present, including the alpacas, felt the same. Even under the shed, it was warm enough that fleece would stick to you. Chantal took advantage of this to test out the goatee look.

Cred for photos goes to Deb T, who took a bunch of pictures in between sorting fleece and giving expert advice.
Here’s a glimpse of an alpaca being shorn (off to the right; that's me in the foreground). They’re strapped to a tilt-top table, and it takes a team for an efficient job. We had the shearer doing his thing, and three more collecting the fleece, taking samples, and bringing the first and second quality sections over to the tables for the sorting team. An extra set of hands or two helped restrain the animal, and while each alpaca was on the table, they got teeth and hooves trimmed and vaccinations.
Then the table is tilted down again, and the freshly trimmed and manicured alpaca can go join the others.

I wasn’t helping with the shearing part per se, but the sorting. Each fleece was separated into first and second quality during shearing, and brought to the appropriate table (wire bases in wood frame, to let short bits and dirt fall through, you can see the corners in the picture with me), where we had to record fleece characteristics (color, crimp, length, luster, density…), pick out any short bits from second cuts and the worst of the hay and dirty spots, move any lower-quality bits to the appropriate grade, and bag the fleece for weighing.
Random things learned: Fresh alpaca fleece smells like canned peaches. Even sorting fleece is hard on the back after 5 hours (don’t ask me how the shearer manages to do three months straight of 8+ hour days). And even with a hot day, a bowl of homemade chili is unexpectedly good when you’re tired and hungry. I will definitely go again next year.

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