Alpaca Welfare Fibre

Shearing time is upon us!

A blog by Emma Taylor from East Anglia Alpaca Mill and Alpacas of East Anglia

I am no doubt preaching to the converted and now is hardly early, but please ensure you book or ideally re-book your shearer early. Many a time I see posts on both the BAS Chat Forum & Alpaca Chat UK asking for shearers in June, July or even later.

Think ahead – what are you planning to do with your fleeces? Sell, show, stash, process…? Answering this question for each fleece -if only in your head, will help you after shearing.

For new owners, I hope those breeders/owners who have sold to you have furnished you with shearers details or indeed helped you book. If not, Duncan (BAS CEO) has a list of shearers (none endorsed by BAS) who you may like to contact. If this will be your first experience of shearing then it may be prudent to contact a breeder locally to you and ask to attend their shearing so you know what to expect on your shearing day. Most breeders will accommodate but will have limited time on the day to answer questions – shearing day is hard work for all involved. Get stuck in if you are willing & able!

How to prepare.

Diatomaceous Earth in dust baths should be stopped 4 weeks ahead of shearing. DE is drying so blunts shears and can neutralise scouring agents (when processing.)

Remove as much vegetation from your fleeces in the weeks ahead of shearing. If you have topped or sprayed paddocks then keep the alpacas out – they will manage to find the dead weeds and cuttings and you will create work for yourselves. Ideal time to pick the detritus out is during monthly herd health but do not disturb the organisation of the fleece if you intend to show it.

Also, an ideal time to take your fleece samples; yes, ahead of shearing. Far easier to be taking samples from mid-sides consistently rather than just plucking a sample from a shorn fleece. Fibre sampling will give you important information not only for future breeding decisions but also for the best use of your fibre. There is no point in spending valuable time either at shearing time or after, skirting a 40-micron fleece. Fibre results might to offer up surprises – we have an older brown girl who is very much nothing to write home about in fleece style but she does have a very low SD which she has maintained for over 10 years.

Plan your shearing day layout & risk assess.

Start to gather your shearing day equipment early enough to source replacements if needed – we have a laminated check list which we use year after year to make sure we don’t forget anything on the day. Being prepared in advance will keep your stress levels low on the day and in turn ensure a smooth-running event.

Bags, pens (biro & permanent marker for bags), paper, paper towels, vaccine, needles and syringes, antiseptic spray, clean t-shirt (in case!), skirting table, bonnet/hand shears, toe nail clippers, knee pads, basic first aid for humans (plasters & steri-strips etc), mobile phone with vet number handy, know your exact location (what3words) for emergency services, ruler (staple length measurement), fleece sample bags (if not already taken or for your own records), fresh drinking water, light refreshments for during shearing, check & prepare any alpaca coats in case you need to use them, skirting table, scissors, broom, waste bin or bag, power ( generator / mains) etc etc ps don’t forget to rally troops to help!

Shearing damp or even wet alpacas is not ideal – keep them in the night before if you possibly can. Then move them to a holding pen close to the shearing station in time for the shearer’s arrival. Once shorn return to their group.

Ensure everything is in working order & clean; vitally important to ensure you clean the bristles of your broom between animals – so easy to contaminate the shearing mat with ‘invisible to the eye’ fibres; have you got sufficient bags for blanket fibre and decided what to do with the rest? We bag all leg fibre of the same colour together; we bag neck fibre with more than 3” of growth in a separate bag to the blanket but leave it with the blanket for weighing in. We do still vaccinate on shearing day because of the ease and time factor but do your research and do what works for you. All toenails and bonnets are trimmed and teeth inspected – especially fighting teeth for the boys. Teeth should not be trimmed for cosmetic purposes. Do ask your shearer to point out any issues with your alpacas – note them for treatment at a later date. A full MOT for alpacas! Note anything which requires addressing after shearing.

Best practice is to skirt fleeces at the time of shearing; keep your shearing area clean & free of fibre & debris to avoid cross contamination; if you are not able to skirt at shearing time then place fleeces carefully into named bags cut side out or noodle them (google ‘noodling fleeces’) Short neck & leg fibre should be bagged separately. Let damp fleeces dry naturally where possible. As soon as you can, skirt those fleeces!

Be vigilant post shearing for chilly alpacas and be prepared to house &/or coat the most vulnerable if the weather is poor. Remember to weigh and record your fleece information.

Every farm will have a slightly different way of doing things and you just need to find ‘your’ way. Don’t be afraid to ask your shearer for help but remember they are there to shear not skirt nor chase your alpacas round a 10-acre field to get them in. Shearing is a team effort between shearer and owners, do what you can to make your experience as relaxed and stress free as possible for alpacas and humas alike.

A freshly sheared fleece, cut side up ready to be turned over & skirted

All weighed, recorded & ready for processing.

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