Monday, June 15, 2009
Shearing a Llama
After yesterday's post about shearing the llamas, there were several questions regarding the shearing process, weight of fleeces, etc., which I will answer in today's post.
It usually takes us about two hours to shear a llama. We first tie the llama up (to our propane tank) and use a high powered blower to open the fleece up and to blow as much debris and vegetable matter (VM) such as hay, grass, sticks and dust/dirt out of the fiber as we can. We sometimes use mink oil diluted in water and spray that into the air flow as we blow; this helps to make the fiber slicker and helps the VM to release and blow out of the fiber better. We usually wear some sort of eye protection during this process because those sticks become little missiles as they're blown out of the fleece. Seriously folks, this blower has two motors on it and can blow a toy poodle across a linoleum floor (don't ask me how I know this).
If the fibers are heavily matted or there is a lot of debris in the outside of the fleece I will use a slicker brush or curry comb to break the tips open, helping to release more of the VM and debris out of the fiber. This also helps to remove any dried tips off the fleece. Sometimes we have to put the llamas into the grooming chute and tie them so they will stand still for shearing (and even then we have some that hate the process and will jump up over and over in an attempt to get out of the chute.) Other llamas will stand quietly outside the chute and allow me to shear them without the use of any restraints other than hubby holding their lead rope (these are my favorite llamas!)
There are various tools that can be used to cut and remove the fiber from the animal. Sheep shears, electric clippers or scissors can be used. I prefer to use scissors when I shear. They are inexpensive, I buy the ergonomically correct type so hand fatigue is kept at a minimum and they generally allow for a better fleece due to fewer second cuts. I can also leave the fiber on the animal a bit longer so their coat grows out enough to keep them warm in our cold and snowy Colorado winters. Electric clippers are expensive, the blades need frequent sharpening, they are heavy and get hot and you need to have an electrical plug-in available and they are noisy and tend to scare the llamas. Sheep shears are similar to using scissors but my hands aren't big enough to even hold a pair of sheep shears, so scissors is my cutting tool of choice!
Hubby holds the lead rope or stands at the head of the llama if they're in the grooming chute and he offers them handfuls of grain and alfalfa pellets if they stand quietly and are good. I start shearing by cutting straight down the topline (back) of the llama starting at their withers at the base of their neck and going to a point where their back legs connect to their body. I start on the right side of the llama and clip front to back, holding the scissors flat against the body so that I don't accidently cut the llama. After I finish the right side, I move to the left side and repeat the process. We have a mesh round pop-up "can" that we put a large plastic bag into and the fleece goes into this as I shear. After I have sheared the "barrel" section of the llama (the middle section) I shear the belly wool, which is usually coarser and dirtier than the prime barrel fiber. This either gets discarded (the birds love to use llama wool for lining their nests!) or if it is fairly clean I bag it and sell it to be used as doll hair. Some people shear their llama completely. I seldom do because I don't want the llama to get too cold during the winter and I don't like the way they look when they're sheared like that. They seem to be mortified, too, when you shear them "bare nekked"!
The llamas look so different after shearing that we frequently have to put them into a catch pen in the pasture until the other animals have had a chance to sniff them and realize that it isn't a new llama that you're putting in with them. This cuts down on fighting and wrestling in the pastures, especially with the boys!
This is a freshly shorn fleece from our Grand Champion llama Midnight Hour (top of post). This prime fleece (after skirting out dirty, coarse and unusable fibers) weighs one pound fourteen ounces (1 lb 14 oz) and has a staple length of 5 inches. Staple length is the length of the fiber from the base where it is cut to the tips.
This fiber can be spun as is straight out of the bag and washed after spinning or it can be washed in soap, dried and carded up into batts (flat sheets) or roving (long rope) and then spun or felted.
Here is a photo of Midnight Hour's fleece from a few years ago that we had carded up into rovings. His fiber is exceptionally soft and loaded with crimp, which gives it "memory" so that when knit with it will retain its shape better.
Llama fiber is hollow so it has excellent heat retention properties similar to down and feathers. It is generally hypoallergenic and does not contain lanolin like sheep's wool does.
Chocolate Chip's prime fleece weighs almost two pounds, which is quite a bit for a little llama but he is almost two years old and this is his first shearing. The first shearing is always the softest and most luxurious fleece the animal will ever produce in their lifetime, making it highly sought after by hand spinners.
Llamas are generally sheared every two years unless they have a fast fiber growth rate, then they can be sheared yearly. Generally as they age their fiber growth rate slows down and we shear every two to three years.
Hopefully this answered the majority of the questions about shearing!