I haven’t posted lately because we have been busy with one of the main events at our ranch, shearing. It all begins in January when we contact our shearer, Eddie, to get on his schedule. Eddie is from Australia but now lives in Oregon. He is a professional shearer of sheep, alpaca and llama. To qualify his status, I will let you know that he can shear an alpaca, on average, in 5 minutes. No joking! It takes a well-organized crew to keep up with him.
To put together that crew we rely on volunteers. I believe we have the best group of volunteers in the whole USA. I may be prejudice but I don’t think so. These people are amazing. I do all the prep work in advance. When they show up I assign them a task and they spend their time focused and efficient. Some have been coming for a few years and some are brand new to the process, but they all do a spectacular job. We could not manage without them.
My prep work consists of preparing shearing bags for each alpaca, making sure all the supplies are on hand (brooms, paper towels, spit socks, sanitizer, floor mats, knee pads), and prepare the food to feed everyone when we are done shearing. I find it is important to feed the help so they feel appreciated and want to come back again. My goal is to make this a pleasant experience for everyone involved. We do tend to have a good time, with lots of joking and laughter during the work.
Shearing is work. If you are out of shape you will definitely know it by the end of the day. It doesn’t take long for those muscles to tighten up and start to ache. We always have pain relievers on hand for those who may be feeling the pain before we finish. I do try and match assigned tasks to those with limitations. Our youngest volunteer was around 13 and our oldest at 77. If someone wants to help, I can find them a job to do. I remind everyone that a good week of yard work before shearing will help to get those muscles ready. I take my own advice and make sure I get some weeding and pruning done in March. Even so, I have my own share of aches and can sympathize with the group. Age does creep up on you when you aren’t looking.
Most important we watch for the safety of the alpacas. Our shearer takes great care in his work and very seldom do we have a nick or cut. Shearing is necessary for the comfort and health of the alpacas. They are wearing a huge coat of wool and need it removed before the warm weather begins. You can feel that warmth in their fiber as it is shorn off. On a warm day after shearing you can see their smiles as they lay out in the pasture. Even though they may not like the immediate process, they find it all worthwhile afterwards.
Now that the shearing is finished I can slip into a slower pace and enjoy the fruit of the harvest. Each fleece will get handled by me to prepare it for the mill. I love sinking my hands into this luscious fiber and examining the results of our breeding program. Each bag is my personal visit with that alpaca. Memories of their pranks, their particular personality, the joy of seeing them with their first cria (baby), or patiently waiting for them to come of age so we can see their offspring, all work their way through my mind. It reminds me of why I am raising these special animals. If you look for me, check the fiber room first.