The alpacas arrived looking like a Southern Californian visiting Canada in February: puffy coats, Ugg boots, and fur hats pulled down so low they could barely see.
Those thick, heavy fleeces ideally come off in late spring before the summer temperatures skyrocket and cause heat stress. Ours were sheared a little late, in early June. A close friend and her fiancé came out and did the actual shearing. The Mr. and I only had to catch and restrain the wild beasts which is easier said than done; they don’t appreciate the catching or the restraining.
And, if you’re wondering, alpacas do spit. Mostly at the other alpacas. People are fair game too if you make them mad enough.
Their spit smells like freshly deposited horse manure and they often walk around with a mouthful ready to shoot at the first offender.
Each fleece is bagged up when it comes off and each bag is labelled with the animal’s name. After that we weighed each fleece.
The raw fleece yield was just under 50lbs for 10 alpacas. The heaviest was one of the machos, Bo, at 9lbs 2ozs. The lightest was one of the girls, Ebony, at 1lb 8ozs. She’s an underachiever in fleece production. We will be sending all of the fiber to a mill here in Oregon to be spun into yarn after we have skirted all of it.
“Skirting” is the term used to describe the process of sorting out all of the coarse, weak, dirty, or otherwise undesirable fiber from the good fiber. Leaving in the bad fiber will greatly reduce the quality, and thereby the value, of the yarn.
First, the fleece is laid out on a clean work surface. I’m using a bedsheet on the feed/tack room floor. Sheep fleeces are easier because the fiber sticks together and can literally be laid out flat like an animal hide. Alpaca fleeces are more like hair and basically just form a pile of fluff.
Then I take a big handful
pull out any large pieces of hay or straw
and second cuts (which are short bits of fiber where the shears went over twice).
The mill requires a staple length (fiber length) of 3″, so I have to measure any questionable bits. If it measures 1.5 Katie thumbs long it’s good to go. Yes, I do frequently use my thumb for a ruler. It just so happens to be 2″ exactly from tip to base. In fact, the average thumb length is actually 2″. Go measure yours and report back.
Once all of the fleeces have been skirted I will go back through and pick them, which means that I will remove as much of the small vegetable matter (aka VM) as possible. Alpacas are very fond of rolling in the dirt and pick up lots of seeds, moss, brambles, etc. The most interesting thing I’ve picked out of their fleece:
A chunk of cement.