Saturday, April 25, 2015

Shearing Time Again

Rich and I looked forward to shearing day this year. Like last year we carted our animals in two separate loads, girls and Mocha first and boys second, down to Grass Run Alpacas where the shearing station was set up. Rhonda and Myron, owners of Grass Run, create a festive atmosphere for a long day of work. Their 4-H club members, who have animals at the farm, assist in the process where ever they are needed and Rhonda hosts a pot luck at the house for the workers and animal owners. This year, it also happened to fall on Rhonda's birthday which made it even more of a celebration.

Mary Jane Fox was doing the shearing this year and she is such a perfectionist that each animal came out looking as if they had spent a day at the spa. I prefer the rounded top-knot on their heads instead of the completely bald or Mohawk strip between their ears. Mary Jane not only sheared perfect little Afros, she also hand clipped with scissors in order to make sure that there were no stray locks sticking out!

Brutus getting his new hair-do!
The alpacas always look so naked after losing their winter fleece. It's difficult to tell Took from Mango, and Brutus from Asterius when they have lost their fleece. You wouldn't think that hair would give each one such a distinctive look but it does. After the process we are able to make a truer assessment of each alpaca's body score: for example, all winter long we suspected that Took was a little on the heavy side and that Mango was a bit thin. Now they they are virtually hairless, Mango looks lean but not too much so, and Took still looks chubby. Someone has been keeping the others away from the feeder until she gets more than her share!

Before shearing, each animal was given something to help them relax, making the whole process less stressful for them and for us. Mango, who was such a screecher and spitter last year, was so much more calm this year.  Little Mocha got his haircut first and Mango followed. She walked calmly to the shearing table and once her legs were tethered, she lay there quietly during her treatment.

Mango waiting her turn on the table. That's Mocha's sire in the background.

Rhonda takes over head holding duties while I snap pictures.

Rich helps the shearer lift each animal on to the table and maneuvers them as needed to reach each section to be sheared, while I hold the head and neck. Rhonda or someone else in the area takes over head holding duties while I take pictures or noodle the blanket fleece. Everyone in and around the barn pitches in and helps with all of the animals and the whole process went smoothly. 

The large plastic buckets, lined with trash bags, under the shearing table are color coded to hold different  sections of fleece as they come off of the animals. The blanket fleece is the part across their back from shoulder to tail. It's the best part of the fleece for yarn making because it is longer, finer and cleaner than any other part. That's the part that I "noodle" instead of collecting in a bucket. This entails shoving a plastic drop cloth under the side of the animal from shoulder to backside. As the shearer shaves it off, I gently lower the fleece as a single blanket onto the tarp. I then fold the plastic over the blanket and roll it up from the end like a sleeping bag. This makes it so easy for me to spread out on the floor when I get home and to further pick out any impurities that might be in it, thus reducing the amount of cleaning that the fleece has to go through at the mill. The shorter and dirtier cuts of fleece are used for making rug yarn or felting. That really dirty, matted stuff on their lower legs is discarded or sometimes used for compost.

One of the pictorial highlights of this visit to Grass Run Alpacas was that little Mocha man got to meet his papa, Black Night. Before shearing, Mocha appeared to be more brown than black in his body. Mary Jane told us that the brown tips were caused by the placental fluid and that his actual color at the roots was bay black. Once he lost that baby fleece and was walked to the fence near his papa, it was apparent that he is truly a bay black animal and looks very much like Black Night.

Mocha meeting his papa for the first time.

Asterius was the most chilled out of all of the herd when he was on the table. His head lolled back and he looked up to us out of eyes that looked like Kermit the Frog! I haven't weighed it yet, but it looked like he also won the prize for the most blanket fleece. His fleece was 6-8 inches long across his back. All I have left to do before I take the bags of fleece to the mill next week is to weigh each fleece and pull test samples from each blanket to do a rough estimation of the density, crimp and micron count (fine-ness) and record it in my files. I'll compare to last year's samples later when I have time to take a breath. Right now I am looking forward to the lovely new yarns and rovings that will be made for me at Morning Star Fiber Mill in Apple Creek.

Just chillin' out.

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