Thursday, June 14, 2007

Alpaca Shearing- a blessing or torture??

All photographs copyrighted by: Rachelle and Codi Black

Ha! Well, we here at Black Magic Alpaca Ranch have been very, very busy lately. All about shearing in a bit but first... After Wyatt, myself, Cameron and Codi worked for two days straight stuffing cds- ta-da! Their second edition printing of The Rosebuds cd is officially finished! Last weekend my children had a huge gig they have been working towards all year. In front of about 500 people from all over the country at our cousin's BMW motorcycle rally. Check out his website here: for a really cool idea. Jim and Steph are great people, and now they have a cutie patootie little girl in their family! It was a great time, and here are some pictures:

They did great! They played along with the help of their teacher's 50's band (who just happened to be able to fill with a little Celtic music) since two of their band mates bailed out at the last minute...... ARGH don't get me started. Anyone else out there think personal responsibility and committment have gone into the toilet? A show of hands - - - I thought so, I couldn't possibly be the only one out there who is seeing this disturbing trend. Nuff said.

The kids both play multiple instruments. In this gig they got to shine! Cameron played the guitar (his usual instrument for the band) and the Irish whistle. Codi got to play her flute as well as her Irish whistle. They got to sell some of their cds and had a good time.

Now, on to shearing! We shear our alpacas once a year, and in some circles of our industry, shearing day is known as "Hell Day"- and for good reason! We have 17 alpacas and two llamas right now. We also had two alpacas and two llamas that came up here for shearing. Last year we had two separate days because we had so many, but this year we did it in one.

It is hard, grueling work shearing. We start at about 8:30 am, and it isn't over till about 5 pm. It helps if you have a good shearer, and we do. Brett and A.J. work together when they come up, and we are so glad to have them. It is great when your shearer is also a friend, and has a great sense of humor! You can't get through the day without a good laugh or ten. Brett is a great guy and we love him. You also need baggers, sorters, herders and servers. And someone who can keep my head from exploding. Enter Cathy, my veteran helper, Vickie, and Darlene- Brett's grandma. With help from the kids Jonathon, Austin, Cameron, Codi and Matt as well- we have a good team.
Thanks guys, we couldn't do it without you!!

So, here's how it's done. The night before, I make out 3x5 cards with all the paca's names, and "P" for prime fleece, and "L & N" for leg and neck fleece, or what we call seconds. I also draw up syringes with worming medicine, and their annual vaccinations according to their weight and age. Imminently due pregnant females, or those in their first or last 30 days of pregnancy do not get anything. Too risky. Everything gets documented in their files later.

Brett and Aj work together to lay the alpaca gently down on it's side, then stretch them out and tie one front and one back leg. One person takes the head down and hold the head and neck while AJ takes the middle. You really need to hold their heads well, because with those long necks they can get the leverage to really cause some chaos! I don't have any wrestling matches on film this year, but sometimes getting the really scared and larger males down can be challenging to say the least. Then Brett shears off the 'trash fleece' around the tail, butt, tummy and chest, and then takes off the blanket on that side as seen in the photo above of my Hally-Boo.

That is quickly gathered and then the leg and neck fleece comes off. With that bagged the paca is flipped and the whole process is repeated.

While they are down, I trim teeth, use my alpaca hairstyling skills (shown below on Arwen) to trim up their topknots, and generally check them over physically.

Everyone gets their hands on the preggo's bellys for a quick feel of a foot, or elbow and we are careful to be quick and gentle to minimize stress.
Spit rags over the nose for those of the more cranky persuasion get nice and green before the day is through! And if they slip, or we aren't fast enough, whoops! You get green and stinky too! This year it was Cameron's turn :))

Llamas like my Angie shown above, are shorn standing- unless they really fight it. They are really too big to take down. Angie is a really good girl :))

Lastly I give their injections, one more kiss and they are up and back to their pens!

Here are a couple of before and after shots:

Earendil before ( this is last year)

After! No more fuzzball. Long skinny necks abound, and everyone looks much, much erm.... smaller!

This is Heathertoes this year. Brown on the outside.....

Beautiful dark gray (picture doesn't do it justice!) underneath! I love it when that happens!
Us oldies have pains in places we never even knew we had. Muscles sore, brains fried- we put on a big barbecue for all our great helpers. And we feast!
Then, after the up and down, up and down, wrestle and bend, pull and slip, trip and fall of shearing- everyone is ready for a nap and a long shower! The pacas run right out and roll, roll, roll! Then they lay in the sunshine and soak it all up. Happy to have all that hot scratchy fleece off, they pronk merrily in the evening twilight and enjoy a feast of their own.
Hope you enjoyed this day in the life of an alpaca rancher!


Shrink Wrapped Scream said...

Oh, Rachelle,

That was magical! What hard work, though, you have stamina, girl, I have to give you that.

My sister is a music teacher, flute and piccalo are her strong suits.. I'm sure she would be very impressed if she'd been there.. and you know how keen we are on guitar around these parts. Beautiful kids, aren't they? My husband plays the bodrun (I don't know if that's how it's spelt, but it's the Irish drum) even if he does do it badly. My uncles and grandfather were bagpipe enthusiasts (gramps was the Pipe Major when he was in service).

As for me? I can play the triangle, if hard pressed..

Bart said...

Wow, interesting stuff. Nothing I'd want to do, to be sure, but yet I'm sure it's quite lucrative.

Also, love the name of the ranch. It flows off the tongue.

Rachelle said...

Hi Shrink!
Well, I too have a bodhran, and I am learning how to play it so my family can play together!
Thanks, they are beautiful aren't they? I don't know where they get it from, but I'm glad they got it!
Slainte sis~

Rachelle said...

Hay Bart,
Well, it is the hardest part about alpaca ranching, shearing is. Except for deaths on the ranch.

The name? Well...erm, I feel the need to explain! We are the Black's, alpacas are kind of magical, so we are Black Magic.

If I had a dollar for every time someone thought I was into hoodoo I could retire! :))

I always feel like I'm off target when I post mundane updates from the ranch! Kind of like I'm supposed to always make readers laugh or cry with every post.... no wonder I'm neurotic.... HA!

singleton said...

Rachelle.....This is like diving into National Geographic, I love it. First I never even new what an alpaca was until I visited your ranch through your words, and the more i learn, the cooler they become! You rock girl!

oh, and put out a can! You won't get a dollar for everytime someone asks, but hey, maybe they'd pay a buck to hear your answer! Turn that hoo-doo into moo-lah!


dawn said...

God Bless you that is a days work and I thought little league was hard. I never imagined what a alpaca looked like without the fur. I am amazed. Well I hoppe you can get some rest now

Rachelle said...

Dear Singleton,
What a great idea! *maniacal laughter*
Thanks, I am glad to educate folks about these wonderful creatures any time I can!

Rachelle said...

Dear Dawn,
Hi there!
Having done little league as a coach, I can assure you that there are different types of 'hard' LOL.
Never again.... you are a braver woman than I am, at least the alpacas don't have egos!!

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