Unfortunate Timing

Most years we shear the alpaca at the end of May, this year it happened at the cold start to the month. It’s a job that takes about four hours and about the same amount of time in preparation and then another two or three hours to tidy and clean up. Shearing day means that the alpacas have to come to the shelter by the house where there is power for the electric shears and they are suspicious of being driven up the hill probably remembering the how it was for them last year. It’s several days hard work and cunning planning because they each have a good memory.

Ian the shearer does the job with an assistant who catches, holds and then ties the animals down onto a mat. Each complaining leg is caught in a rope and pulleys are used to stretch the animal out – legs to the front and to the back. It takes about 5 minutes to strip each alpaca. Ian files any long teeth, covering his mouth with a mask because alpaca tooth dust is carcinogenic, toenails are trimmed and they get given a shot of anti-tetanus treatment and another for parasite control. Our role is to collect the fleece, draw up the injections, sweep the mats and get rid of rubbish. That includes the urine that leaks onto towels in protest.

The alpacas resent the treatment but most years are pleased to be relieved of a coat that is four or five inches think. They stand up, look annoyed and then usually, are let out into the field. This year because the weather was cold and rain was forecast, they had to stay in the shelter overnight. Three decided to make a break for it and escaped into next doors pasture. Eve decided not to rejoin the herd for two days.

Once they are stripped, leaving about a cm of fleece, any problems that have developed over the year are easier to see. Lumps, bumps, sores, cuts, being very thin or more usually here – being unhealthily fat. The better fleece is bagged individually in clear plastic sacks ready for sorting and collection by a Yorkshire mill. The stuff that is only suitable for carpets or insulation or nothing at all, gets put into one huge sack. One year the sort revealed an elephant hawk moth which had become entangled in the fibre. It was desiccated.

This year the cold wind and heavy showers that continued for several days after shearing should have been sufficient to keep them all in the shelter. It didn’t and they shivered and looked miserable and lay flat on the ground as if they were hiding from the weather. Alpacas are known for their stoicism but not usually for making things hard for themselves.

Now in the sun they should be looking shiny white -most of them, but they are not because they have rolled in the soil.