Thursday, March 7, 2013

Animals A to Z

Meet the Alpacas part 2 

Most of the time the alpacas are on their own in the pasture for a good part of the year. Other than feeding, they require little extra care. But for those times, a large animal vet is necessary. One who knows alpacas is better.

This is our vet, Steph. She used to be our house sitter when she was still going to vet school, so she knows all our animals. Bonus! Every year in the spring, these guys get sheared, get their nails trimmed, and get their vaccinations. We used to trek them to Colorado State University vet school, where the students get to help. That involved borrowing trailers, having Steph take them while she was working there, and even trying to get them in the back of the Durango. Don't ask. Last year, she just brought the three professional sheep shearers to my backyard. I love our vet.

They're professional sheep shearers from Australia, and they are here in the spring to do the CSU shearing days, and do a lot of the alpaca and sheep herds in the area. They are very busy.

Steph brought her assistant, and they all got right to work. Now before you read on, I will tell you what the professionals told me, repeatedly, because I think I always look like I'm going to cry when I watch. (Except for this year when I was busy watching the shearers and taking pictures - can you blame me, Australian accents in your own backyard doing their thing?). They will tell you that they shear alpacas this way because it is the safest, fastest way to do it.

I know, right? They have pulleys which, in my yard conveniently went between the trees where the hammock goes in the summer, and they restrain their front and back legs. Someone holds their head, and they shear one side then the other.  By the way, have you ever heard an Alpaca scream? Puca, above, is never happy with this process. He basically screams through the whole ordeal, which makes everybody giggle. :( In no time at all, the fiber is shorn and put into categories. This is important for spinners, etc. because the best fiber comes from the middle - or the blanket. They shear it in mostly one big piece (like peeling an apple all the way around while trying to keep the peel intact?) Then they shear the neck, and legs.  
Quito and Fantan , the tan and white, are mostly quiet while this is happening.  It goes by pretty fast, then they get their pedicure, and a shot and they're done. The worst part was all the fiber I couldn't get off the lawn for a few weeks. Although it provided the birds with premium nest building material.
They even separate the different grades of fiber into bags for you!  That's service. ( I guess you build really good forearms when you wrestle sheep and alpacas. Just sayin.)
See, look. He's fine. And as long as we don't get a cold storm coming through the next day, which did happen one year, they are much happier right away, and ready for the summer months. I love the way they leave a cute little hairdo on them.
And without all that extra fiber, they feel so light they can fly! Well, they try.

The nice thing about alpaca fiber is that it doesn't contain lanolin like sheep wool does, so it's not really that dirty or at all greasy. They say alpaca fiber is very strong, and because of the lanolin element, people may not be allergic to alpaca sweaters and such as they are to regular wool.  So all I've done is experiment so far. I've used these hand carders to separate and smooth out fiber and make little rolags, which are basically little rolls of clean fiber. Felting is a long, back intensive process....which is why I have so many bags of fiber stuffed around the attic and garage. I figure it makes good insulation. And for some reason I won't let my husband get rid of any. Which he threatens to.

Have you ever had a wool sweater that accidently got washed in the hot cycle?? That's basically felting. My process was putting about 5 layers of fiber on a bamboo mat about -15" by 15" square, with powdered detergent sprinkled on each layer. I roll up the mat and then basically swish and rinse and swish and rinse in hot water until it all bonds together to make felt. There's more to the process but there are better places to learn how to do that. I've made some little bags, an eyeglass cupholder, and a martini shaker cozy for my brother. Weird, you say?  Real felters make all kinds of cool things like hats and slippers and purses...the list goes on.

Well, now you know more about alpacas and their fiber than you ever wanted to know. By the way, they do poop in a designated area in the pasture. Very neat little creatures. And....they hum. Really- hum. Usually when they're eating or standing around. Just a pleasant little humming sound. Let me tell you it's a heck of lot more peaceful than listening to screaming goats or roosters that crow in the middle of the night... But those are stories for another day.

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