Friday, 31 May 2013

Busman's Holiday

After a week of cold and wet, it's nice to have a change in the weather. As it is, I spent part of yesterday at work moving flats stored under tables, because they were going moldy from the cold wet conditions.

Monday and Tuesday, however, were just about perfect - dry and sunny and not too hot. I had the two days off, by request, because Monday was the annual shearing day at L'Ourse Qui Danse. Busman's holiday indeed - I traded in a job where I'm on my feet all day for a shearing bee where I'm...on my feet all day. It makes for a long day (8 am when we arrived, and dusk when we left) but it's great fun, great people - and great food, as it's a potluck lunch and supper. (Wish I'd taken a picture of the spread). Most of the team has been at shearing before, so it goes smoothly. A whole system in place and a (superhuman) shearer, and all 21 animals got shorn and skirted before supper.

A couple of the younger guys were in charge of catching and moving alpacas. For the ones in the further barn, they have an enclosure of scaffold and snow fence which gets pulled to the shearing site, and works very well. We stopped skirting to watch the parade go by.

They use the same contraption to bring them back again - except this year, one of the alpacas, Cayenne, refused to wait, and bolted back to her barn the minute she was done being shorn. All we saw was a streak of brown, followed a minute afterwards by a guy in hot pursuit.

The boys turn the alpaca over to Tom the shearer and his team. They strap and hold the alpacas in position on the table, while Tom shears and calls the rough grade (quality) of each section. While the animals are down, they also get pedicures and shots.

One person is in charge of collecting the shorn fleece, and turning it and its rough grade over to Johanne (the boss) and her sister. They sort and pack it into bags labeled with the animal's name, grade, and the year, plus keep samples out for their records, and the mill.

The bagged fleece comes to the skirting team (that's my group!), who have lots to do:
weigh and record quantity of each grade, and record color, texture, staple length, lustre, crimp, and guard hair presence in the first-quality fleece,

then pick hay, second cuts, and off-texture bits out of the fleece. (And ooh and aah over the texture, of course).

We get supervised, because sorting's an important job, and because there's a lot of temptation to just take the fleece home and roll in it. Chantal's dog and Johanne's cat are on duty here. 

And at the end of the day, we had a studio filled with bags of fibre!

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