Thanks to the Internet, it’s quite easy to go to YouTube and watch any number of Videos of alpacas being sheared. The process begins with isolating the alpaca in a contained space called a ”catch pen” and then taking the animal into a shearing barn with a concrete floor.
This keeps the fleece as free of debris as possible and allows for better clean-up. The animals are laid flat on their side and the fleece is shorn with electric clippers.
These power shears are made up of a hand piece, comb, and cutters. Portable shears with the motor contained in the handle are recommended for alpacas.
Good quality commercial models that can handle the dense alpaca fleece cost £150-£298.
The adjustable comb attaches to the hand piece. The flat side faces up and away from the animal. Its purpose is to enter and separate the fibres. This piece dulls quickly, and must be replaced after 2 or 3 animals are shorn. Combs cost £9-£21 each.
The cutters typically have four triangular points. They attach to the hand piece and press firmly against the comb. Cutters dull even faster than combs, at the rate of about three cutters per single comb. Cutters cost £6-£9.
Although there are many techniques for shearing animals, some unique to the individual, the basic procedure is that the animal is laid on its side and the shearer works from the belly toward the centre of the back.
The fleece is taken off as one single piece or ”blanket.” The preference is to remove the fleece in one unit, cutting as close to the skin as possible.
After one side is completed, the animal is flipped to the other side and the procedure is repeated. It usually takes three people working as a team, one holding the head and shielding the eyes, and two removing the fleece.
(Many alpaca owners far prefer to hire professional shearers to complete this task.)
The hair is left long on the head and legs, so a shorn alpaca looks a bit like it’s wearing a Wig and old-fashioned ladies’ pantalettes!
(While it is certainly possible for a single person to shear an animal,that requires a fair degree of both experience and confidence. Anyone with experience shearing sheep will have no difficulty shearing an alpaca.)
Shearing and Heat Stress
Even if you are keeping alpacas as pets, the animals should be shorn each year. Failure to do so increases the risk of fatal heat stress. At best, a male that has suffered heat stress can be left permanent by sterile. Signs of heat stress include:
- a wobbling gait
- flaring of the nostrils
- open mouth breathing
- a refusal to stand from the kush position
The best method to alleviate heat stress is to remove the fleece from the body and then the neck. Pour isopropyl alcohol over the body and put the alpaca in front of a fan. If no alcohol is available, cool water will help. Do not hose down a fully fleeced alpaca as the fibre will mat and prevent heat release.
A vet should be consulted as the animal may need treatment, including injections of Banamine and B-complex Vitamins.