On Saturday, Island Alpaca held its eighth annual Shearing Day event, where a team of handlers removed the winter coats from 70 alpacas. Islanders and off-Island visitors watched the full process of harvesting the fleece from the herd, and witnessed the start of the fleece-to-fiber transition, at the farm’s annual harvest. The team from Island Alpaca and expert shearing team Matt Best from New Hampshire and his assistant Nate Trojanski from Connecticut, along with a crew of helping hands, worked for nearly 8 hours. Working efficiently, they averaged less than seven minutes per alpaca.
The process began with each alpaca stretched out on a thick, padded mat on the ground, with its front legs tied together and back legs tied together. This method allowed the shearer to work faster and get a more even cut, and is less stressful for the alpaca this way (think the calming principle of the ThunderShirt for dogs). It allowed for better control shearing, and helped to prevent any nicks on the alpacas’ bodies from the clippers. A large piece of paper was placed under each animal to collect the animal’s blanket, or most-coveted stomach, back, and chest fleece, the softest and most usable fiber. Other hair, from the animal’s necks and legs, was collected separately.
The total weight of the fleece for Island Alpaca Co.’s harvest has yet to be determined, but individual alpaca produce between two and 12 pounds of fiber depending on age, genetics, environment, and nutrition. The farm is expecting 550 to 600 pounds, and every bit of the harvest will be used. Each alpaca fleece was bagged and separated by the individual alpaca name. Half of the harvest will be transported to Fall River, where Island Alpaca fleeces are washed, sorted, and used for making hats, gloves, scarves, socks and boot and shoe insoles. The other half of the harvest, the prime blanket section of the fleece, is transported to southern New Hampshire, where it will be processed into yarn for sale at their gift shop on-Island and online, and for knitters who make products for the local farmers’ markets and gift shop.
Throughout the shearing, the animals were noticeably calmed by the process of the hair removal, relieved from the heat and discomfort the extra hair provides in warmer months. Alpacas are shorn just once a year, in the spring, and without the annual shearing event the alpaca hair would continue to grow, getting out of hand and uncomfortable, like many of us can attest to when we ignore the hairdresser for too long.
Once they had been shorn, the alpaca happily milled about, trying to recognize one another with their new haircuts, sporting unique textured looks thanks to the marks from the clippers.
You can visit the newly shorn animals and check out their new ’dos at Island Alpaca, open every day from 10 am to 4 pm, rain or shine. For more information call 508-693-5554, or visit their site, islandalpaca.com.