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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!


Meghann said...

DUDE! That is so cool, I love how you do it by hand, that is sooo amazing, good for you! That fleece looks so great and comfy, now I HAVE to get really good and fast at crocheting and knitting so i can use some of your fiber. Good for you, i am so jealous of you right now (and I'm grinning like an idiot, living vicariously through you, lol)
Have a great day, I can't wait to see more fiber! :)

Split Rock Ranch said...

Meghann: Thanks, and once you use natural llama fibers, you'll never want to use acrylic yarns ever again in your projects! Soon I'll post photos of rovings and the resulting handspun yarns so you can see how they look spun up. So much fiber, so little time... ;o)

RE Ausetkmt said...

Aaahhhhh.. I had Dreadlocks and so I understand. may I ask a question and make a suggestion.

it sounds like their fleece is just like a Dreadlock. when they lock, you don't like that. okay to keep it from locking, you could use shampoo and comb them right ?

use shampoo with lots of oil, and citrus base to keep the dirt down.

I'm thinking of this like hair; but probably it's not right ?

so do you plan to let us see it when you've finished processing it ?

I'm even more curious now that I've seen it raw; LOL, I want to see it finished.

That color is so luxurious. I'm sure that would make a very very nice sweater.

do you have any black llamas, that you'll be sheering ? I'd love to see that Fleece. wow, it must look like mink.

so how are they after the sheering ? calmed down and chilled out again ? I hope you give them plenty of hugs and kind words when they get excited.

from a Dread who's been shorn ;(
I can tell it, it's very traumatic indeed. Your Hair is You.

Split Rock Ranch said...

Actually, only the suri llamas have the dreadlock fiber. The rest of them are either a silky single coat or a double coat that has a fluffy undercoat and longer coarser guard hairs that act like a raincoat. We don't brush or bathe them unless we are going to show them. When you brush them you open up their fiber and destroy that "raincoat" and then you end up with all kinds of junk in the fiber. If I am going to shear a show fleece, I bathe them first, put them in a pen with carpet on the ground to keep them clean and let the lock structure set back up before shearing them. I will do a post showing the raw fleeces, carded to roving and then spun to yarn - I think I have pics of all these things. This is fun! I had NO idea everyone would be so interested in llama fiber. (big grins) ;o)

tahtimbo said...

Thank you for taking the time and explaining this. I had no idea how much time and work went into shearing a llama. Thanks again for the info.

Daisy said...

Gosh, that was really interesting! Now I want to get something made from llama fiber.

Nancy said...

Wow, that sounds like a lot of work, I thought giving my dog a bath was a pain :)

Hanks In The Hood said...

Thanks Brenda for taking all the time to talk about the process. I had to chuckle a bit trying to picture little Brenda wrestling these llamas just to get their wonderful fiber. The lengths us spinners will go to for a nice fleece. LOL!

WillOaks Studio said...

Thanks so much for that great info, Brenda. When we shear Dakota, it's OK for bird nests...but now I wonder it her American Eskimo clippings could be spun, too?? Do you clip and spin any of your other animals, besides the llamas? And yes, now I want a llama fiber something to wear for myself!!

Pricilla said...

Thanks so much! I really appreciate the knowledge you have about the llamas. They are just too cool for words. I wish my knitting was up to the level of such great yarn!

Nancy said...

Wow, what a great post! Thanks for sharing about your process. I love knitting with llama fiber. I'm sure it's wonderful to spin with such a long staple length too! I love the photo with all of the freshly shorn fleece overflowing on that chair. There's so much!

RE Ausetkmt said...

Now That is One Fine Llama

wow he looks better than a Poodle ever could. I've been noticing other pics of llamas; and everybody does not sheer their llama's in that style.

why did you decide to use that particular cut ? is there like a llama hairstyles book LOL or something.

is there somebody who designs llama cuts ? or why not publish one showing how you do what you do..

You are REALLY Good Girlfriend, and to make sure everybody knows - You are hereby proclaimed
"The Real Llamamama".

Cause You Got it Like That.

can I show your llamas sheering and roving post on RecycledFrockery In the Future ?

Dorothy said...

I can't wait to share this with Kelly Davis in my office she owns an Alpaca farm in Niagara County in New York state and she just had a shearing weekend as well.

Thanks for visiting our site this is a great blog.

Dorothy from grammology

BeadedTail said...

Wow! That's quite a process! Thank you so much for explaining this. I had no idea what was all involved and now have a huge appreciation for what you do and for the fleece that comes from those beautiful animals!

Five O'Clock Somewhere said...

Great and interesting info! Lots of work, but worth it! After loosing two pounds of fleece he must feel like running around and celebrating!