This past Saturday, for all the activity going on, the barn was still - possibly a response to the shy quiet animals with long necks, plum-sized eyes, and sweet-faces who crowded the pen next to the shearing area waiting their turns, the alpacas who one by one were being shorn.
The more than 200 people who came to the second Annual Shearing Day at Island Alpaca Farm in Tisbury were held in fascination as they watched almost 50 huacaya alpacas receive their yearly shearing and listened to Sandy D'Amico deliver a brief education on alpacas.
Alpacas come from the high altitudes of South America; are members of the camelid family, which includes camels, llamas, and vicunas; have been in the States since 1984; and come in 22 different colors. Huacaya fleece is like sheep's fleece without the lanolin.
Like well rehearsed choreography, the shearing crew - Matt and Jozi Best from New Hampshire, assisted by Phillipe Morin, and staff and volunteers from Island Alpaca - began with the herd's pregnant females, stretching each one full length on the ground, front and rear legs secured by ropes, talking, calling each by its name: Silver, Aftiel, Jackpot, Carlie Rose.
Silence. Then as the electric shears began lifting off whole sections of fleece, the piercing sound of protest came from some alpacas, long shrill wails despite the soothing from Ms. Best and the initial squirt of a probiotic from assistant Phoenix Russell.
It begins with the blanket - the prime fleece on an alpaca, the part of the animal that would be covered if a blanket was draped on its back from shoulders to tail. As fleece is removed, it is logged in and separated into bags according to its quality: blanket, neck fiber, upper legs, etc. Typically each animal is shorn in about five minutes. By the time the alpaca, who seems to instantly recover from the experience, is being led back to the holding pen, Luke Bartkus is sweeping the area clean, and along with Ms. Russell, bagging the fleece.
Each alpaca produces between 3 and 10 pounds of fiber depending on age, genetics, environment and nutrition.
Winners of the Island Alpaca Farm raffle were Marsha Gressler of Oak Bluffs, Matthew Barton of Vineyard Haven, and Kendra Bakerink of New Bedford.