Country Home Alpacas and DaGrove Farm came together Friday for alpaca shearing.

Country Home Alpacas and DaGrove Farm came together Friday for alpaca shearing.
The shearing occurred on Country Home Alpacas farm, which is north of McPherson.
The first contestant was a brown drama queen who screamed bloody murder throughout the procedure and emerged about 15 minutes later, looking like a boy with a fresh buzz cut and wounded only in dignity.
“They’re all different characters,” Carla Terry, co-owner, with husband, Mike, of Country Home Alpacas, said as she unleashed the shorn animal into a corral and watched it prance away.
As if to prove the point, the next customer, a tall white female, barely uttered a sound and took about half the time to shear.
Unlike llamas, “they don’t spit unless they’re stressed. For example, if you give one a treat and another one sees that and doesn’t get one, it’ll spit,” Terry said.
Alpacas, a smaller version of the llama, originating in South America and of the camelid family, are sheared annually, like sheep, as the weather gets warm. Unlike sheep, alpacas, with their long legs and necks, aren’t easily wrangled.
“You can do it with three people,” said Beverly Martin, owner of four alpacas at DaGrove, “but a group of seven makes for an easier, faster shear.”
Brent Winslow of Minnesota and his assistant did the actual shearing, labor that is skilled and requires strength, precision and speed. Winslow, who learned his trade from a man from New Zealand, contracts with alpaca and schedules his trip much as wheat custom cutters do. He files the animals’ teeth and trims their toenails as well.
Because of those long legs, Winslow’s procedure is to carefully lower the animal down to the shearing floor, bind the front legs together, then the back legs, and straighten them out as far as possible with the help of ropes attached to vehicles slowly edged apart on either end. The head is viced between the shearer’s legs as it’s being worked on. In the case of drama queens, a sock is put over the muzzle.
Extra help is appreciated to edge out those vehicles, lower the animal to the floor, and to steady the wiggly drama queens, as well as remove the shorn fiber.
“Blankets are usually shorn off in one piece,” Martin said. The term describes the fur, known as fiber, not wool, from the sides and back of the animal.
“Seconds are from the neck and legs,” Terry said. “It isn’t as soft and is used for felting. The rest of the fur isn’t usable.”
Martin and Terry whisked the blankets and seconds away as they were shorn, sweeping up the unusable fleece to be discarded.
The Terrys began alpaca ranching in 2005. Their plan was to breed and sell the stock as well as selling the fiber, as a sideline and later into retirement.
“Alpaca fiber is warmer than wool, and softer than cashmere when using the top quality from the blanket,” Terry said.
Martin started her small herd about three years ago as part of her plans for a healing farm, a place of retreat for people who need peace and quiet.
“The alpacas have to be shorn and the fiber is just an extra,” she said.
For more about Country Home Alpacas, find them on Facebook at CountryHomeAlpacas.