Alpacas at Windy Hill

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Shearing Comes But Once A Year

Doug with his buddy, Stormy Crawford.
AWH Silvano's Gunpowder & Lead gets his

AWH Silvano's Gunpowder & Lead gets his "glamour shot".

High luster meets a sure and steady hand.

High luster meets a sure and steady hand.

John demonstrates how he makes his first cut of the blanket, not overlapping passes with the  blades

John demonstrates how he makes his first cut of the blanket, not overlapping passes with the blades

Miracle gives me an unsure look as the shearers stretch her out on the mat.

Miracle gives me an unsure look as the shearers stretch her out on the mat.

Shearing alpacas is a big deal Windy Hill.

It’s that defining moment when we finally see the fruits of our labor in a tangible way:

What is the fleece really like?
Is there enough luster?
Did that breeding create an improvement in the fleece?
What does it feel like if you close your eyes?
How much does the bag weigh?

There’s a lot of preparation and planning that goes into an alpaca shearing day:
make arrangements with the shearing crew (this can happen as early as November!)
line up our volunteers
inventory and order supplies—bags, cards, vaccines, Sevin dust, syringes and needles, name tags
take “glamour shots” of the alpacas—they will never look exactly like this again
get the equipment ready—sharpen toenail trimmers, test the scale, set up tables
set up the ranch-wide chute through which the pasture groups will travel to and from the barn

We start early and go like crazy. Although the 4-man team from BioSecure Alpaca Shearing does all the “heavy” work, we have to keep them supplied with the next alpaca so that we don’t slow them down! There are always minor instructions to give:
“This one is a show fleece”;
“Stop shearing this neck at the jaw line”;
and decisions to make:
“Yes, trim those fighting teeth”;
“Put this alpaca in the lineup ahead of that one because her owner has arrived”
to keep us on our toes.

At noon we all take a lunch break and sit in the shade of the big pepper tree on the front lawn. I call it “The Veranda”, because for the 1st year I lived here it was the only shade on the whole ranch! It’s wonderful to relax, have a sandwich and a cold drink, and talk about the funny things that happened over the morning with friends who have come to help. We take our shoes off to wiggle our toes in the cool grass, and just about the time it feels like a nap would be a great idea, it’s time to get back to work!

Because we run our tails off, the end of the day is always welcome, and the end of shearing the last alpaca is even better! But we’re not done quite yet. Now it’s time to clean up, put everything away, and sort through the fleeces. Windy Hill fleeces go out to the sea container to be hung up. All the boarders’ fleeces go into the office to be sorted by owner where they will wait to be picked up for a week or two.

Fleece up my nose, in my shoes, in my ears, and in every itchy place you didn’t think it could go. Then at last, the much-anticipated shower.

We’re finished for another year—but reallyjust beginning.
Many decisions and projects await us:
Which fleeces will I prep for fleece shows or spin-offs?
Which special fleeces do I want to spin myself?
Which fleeces should we send to the mill to be made into batts, roving and yarn?
Which fleeces will we hold out for sales “as is”?
Will we do any dyeing?
Where is that list of enthusiasts who bought fleeces last year??
What to do with the coarser fleece?
Shearing, like herd management, is something that we never really leave before beginning again. After all, this entire experience is about the fleece. That wonderful, luxurious alpaca fleece. Come get your hands in alpaca fiber. You’ll never be the same.

Cindy Harris & Doug Fieg ~ Alpacas at Windy Hill ~ Somis, CA ~ [email protected] ~ 805-907-5162

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