When I went outside the sun was barely starting to peek over the top of the trees. I welcomed its warm rays, since the air still held the nip of a cool spring morning.
Rusty and his dad were giving directions to four men, who were hired to come and help with the shearing. The goal was to have all seventy-five alpacas sheared by lunch time, a pretty lofty goal for only two men, but attainable with the added four.
The men set up a large mat for the animals to lie on, then gathered them one at a time. Two would help the alpaca lay on its side, while the other two strapped bungee cords around its feet and stretched the animal out securely. A man stayed on each end of the animal, keeping them from moving and getting injured. Rusty typically stayed at the alpaca’s head, holding it secure and stroking it if the animal seemed agitated.
While the alpaca was stretched out, Reggie came in with a huge set of electric clippers and started shearing the animal. He followed a rhythmic pattern across the animal’s side, moving in even lines. The coat would then lift off in an almost solid piece, and Grace would gather the fiber and collect it in canvas bags. Reggie would then continue shearing along the animal’s legs and neck until it was ready to be turned. The men would pick up the alpaca together and place it on its other side, allowing Reggie to complete the job.
When the body was completely sheared of all its fiber, the men allowed the alpaca to sit up and Reggie gave them each a real haircut. He carefully shaved around their ears and trimmed the top to give them a polished look. When they finished with Rascal, I couldn’t help but pop in to get a few pictures.
“I think he’s ready for a glamour shot,” I said, and Rascal was ready to comply. He looked at me with such an intelligent look in his eyes, that I thought for sure he was saying to me, “Can you believe what they’ve done to me?” Reggie had kept a smart little lock on the top of his head, giving him a coiffed bad-boy look. He was adorable.
I was amazed at how quickly the entire process took place. I could tell that it was a well-orchestrated event, one that had been practiced for many years. Reggie certainly was an “old hand,” he knew exactly what he was doing. His helpers knew it as well, they quickly fell into a pattern, shearing each animal in under five minutes.
As I watched them work, I couldn’t help but watch Rusty and his dad’s interaction with the animals. Rusty had such a gentle and reassuring manner, speaking in low tones and caressing them on the neck and face. Reggie would stroke them across the belly and side as he was shearing them, which I was sure was his way of expressing his love for them.
The older alpacas were easy. They were accustomed to the routine and typically laid down on the mat without a fuss. The younger ones were a different story, however. They would buck and kick, squirming their heads around, trying to break free of their confinement. I watched as Rusty would link their heads under his arm and walk with them to the mat, talking to them in soothing tones. The youngsters almost immediately calmed down. If they were still fighting their constraints as they were lying on the mat he would hold his hands on both sides of their faces, stroking their muzzle and talking to them some more.
Once the animals were released they jumped up and joined their friends, all huddling together like wobbly naked children. I couldn’t help but laugh at how pathetic they looked, their skinny little bodies exposed to the world.
“Look how skinny they are!” I cried, as Grace joined me for a moment watching the younger group as they were herded back into their pen. “They looked so fat before, but I guess it was all just fluff!”
Grace laughed. “Yep. Their coats are deceptively thick. We get between three to ten pounds off of each animal, depending on their size.”
“Seriously?” I was incredulous. I looked at all the canvas bags full of fiber which were being stacked up around us. The amount of fluff was overwhelming.
Grace started carrying the bags toward one of the outbuildings, stacking them against the wall inside. I started to help her, knowing that many hands made light work.
“Do you spin and dye all of this fiber?” I asked, looking at the huge pile of bags which resembled pillows. We could have a serious pillow fight in this barn, I thought.
Grace shook her head. “No, we sell most of it to vendors, but I like to keep a fair amount to play with. It keeps me busy all year.” I have a workshop in this building, where I do most of my spinning and also work with the dyes. It is a messy business. I frequently have purple or red hands, or some other crazy color, when I am experimenting with the dyes. I wear gloves, but it still soaks through.”
I tried to imagine Grace’s beautiful hands tinged with a rainbow effect. The thought was too incongruous with how I pictured her now.
“I would love to watch you while you worked with the yarn,” I said. “I bet it’s amazing to watch.”
“Well, I guess that you will have to come back for another visit then,” Grace said, with a twinkle in her eye.
“I guess that I will,” I answered quietly, and followed her outside to help her finish bringing in the bags of fluff.