Alpaca shearing - How to Hand Shear for Do-It-Yourselfers
Alpaca shearing with a hand shear is entirely possible. It's not something you want to do if you have more than ten or twelve alpacas. If you have a small herd like we do, you can hand shear.
Reasons to shear
Why would you want to do-it-yourself instead of calling in the professionals? You can shear whenever you want instead of trying to get ahold of a shearer, making an appointment, having it rain, cancelling the appointment, getting the shearer to agree on a new date and time, having the shearer forget and not show up, finally getting the shearer out to the farm, having the shearer forget his extra shearing blades...oh. my!
We decided to try alpaca shearing by hand because it is cheaper, we can do it when we have the time, and we thought that maybe our alpacas might be less stressed if they didn't hear the clippers running.
Type of hand shears
We purchased a kit for $75.00 from Useful Llama Items that had 5" and 3.5" BBN clippers with a sharpener. Shearing just three alpacas ourself covers the cost of the shears. We probably are saving more because I'm sure the cost of professional alpaca shearing has crept up with the increased cost of fuel.
We used the 5" clippers for the blanket area and the 3.5" for the belly and to trim up some of the areas we missed or didn't cut short enough.
The shearing blades didn't seem to need sharpening as much as we thought they would. The blades sharpened up with the little pocket sharpener that was included in the kit quite easily. They were simple to use. No need to run electricity out to where we were shearing with the hand shears.
We wore cotton gloves and they didn't hurt our hands. We chose to do only two alpaca shearings in a day and we took turns. Also, we only sheared the barrel area (read below for the reason why we only did such a small amount of shearing).
We were happy enough with the shearing equipment we chose. Of course, we don't know anything different since we have never used any other hand shears.
We chose to do the shearing in our two horse trailer. It has a rubber mat and is confining so, hopefully, the alpaca couldn't get too wild on us. We, also, decided to start with our calmest alpaca because we needed time to learn and figured he'd be the most patient with us.
We had bags handy for the fleece, a broom, the shears, gloves, and some hay in the trailer to keep our alpacas occupied.
We caught our gelding, Pokey, and haltered him. He easily entered the trailer as he always does. We then tied him to the center post.
We decided to only do the barrel cut this year. We were starting late in the season and wanted mostly to get the blanket fleece off for our use and to make sure they would be cool this summer.
To begin our alpaca shearing, we started on his left side. We separated his fleece down the center of his back. To do this we just pulled it apart with our hands until we had a fairly straight line down his spine so that we could see how long the fleece was and where to make that first cut.
Next we just dove right in and made the cut. Once the first cut is done, it's easy to see where you need to keep cutting.
We separated the fleece vertically into sections as we moved from his hind leg to his neck. Doing this helped to keep us moving along the side of the alpaca more evenly.
The non-shearing hand was used to move ahead of the shears to feel the alpacas body contour so that we would not get any skin.
One of us stood at the alpacas head to keep him calm.
Being new at shearing alpacas, we were a little conservative with how close we cut and we discovered we could definitely have cut closer. We ended up having to go back and trim quite a bit on the first alpaca to get a closer cut. We will still go back and trim more later but Pokey was loosing patience with us so we left him a little longer than we wanted.
Working Down the Body
As we worked our way down the side of the alpaca, we pulled the already cut fleece off at about the halfway point. This got it out of our way and we didn't have the weight of it pulling on the fleece we were trying to cut.
We worked slowly, cautiously. We did not want to cut Pokey and have him be terrified of being hand sheared. The first side (including half of the belly) took around a half hour.
Pokey was becoming annoyed with us and he could hear the other alpacas alerting on something. We took a break and went outside the trailer. Our oldest girl was alerting on a coyote. We let Pokey near the herd so he could see what was going on and that everything was ok.
After about five minutes we returned to the trailer. He patiently stood while we did his second side. We traded shearing, so this wasn't much faster since it was the other persons first time shearing.
Alpacas are not thrilled with their bellies being touched and Pokey was no exception. He became a lot less patient once we started clipping under his belly, but still he stood and let us finish. (The second alpaca we sheared decided to kush. With this alpaca we had to tie her head up higher so that she couldn't kush and we could still reach her belly.)
After around another half hour, the shearing and trimming was complete along with a toenail trimming.
Finished Alpaca Shearing
When we finished the shearing, we knew that we could do a better job on the next alpaca. Mostly, we knew we would do a closer cut so we wouldn't spend as much time trimming.
Here is our first hand sheared alpaca...
Not too bad. Certainly not a professional alpaca shearing but, what we wanted was to get the fleece off so that it was usable and to make sure the alpacas did not over heat in the summer. So, it's not the prettiest cut, but that's ok for us at this time.
Next Year Shearing
We really like not being tied to a professional shearers schedule. We can start earlier next year and shear the whole alpaca at our leisure. So, that is our plan.
We should be able to get our alpaca shearing done before the heat of the summer. If we are a little into early summer before the last one is sheared, that's ok with us. It's not too hot, yet, in early summer here and we can leave their fleece longer so that they will have enough grown back to stay warm in the winter.
You can do the barrel cut every other year. This will make one shearing year much easier.
By all means use a professional for your alpaca shearing if you are planning on showing your alpacas. Or use one if you just don't have the patience to spend that much time shearing an animal. There's nothing wrong with using professional shearers. We did for 7 years.
Hand shearing your alpacas will only work if you have a small herd. You just would not have enough time to shear them all by hand and we can imagine how sore your hand could get doing multiple shearings.
Shearing the blankets and bellies of two alpacas in one day or one whole alpaca in one day would be quite enough.
Of course, as you get use to alpaca shearing, you will get faster and better. We already have. So, if you want to save some money and shear on your own schedule, you CAN do it with a small herd.
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