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Shearing – Planning and preparation can make a difference

by Michelle Malt

 In southern Queensland and northern NSW many breeders shear their alpaca herds from August onwards, so if you haven’t already thought about it - now is the time to start your preparation.

Each year as shearing time has drawn closer, I have thought about what I needed to do to prepare, what had to be done on the day, and almost every year there has been something I forgot about until either the last minute, or worse still, after shearing was over.  Hopefully these tips will be useful to new and more experienced breeders alike.

Set your shearing date / book your shearer / organise your ‘workforce’. 

If you have a ‘regular’ shearer then contact them early to book your preferred shearing date.  Many alpaca shearers complete a circuit of northern areas and are only available for a limited period of time, so allow for some flexibility on the day and date you plan to shear (although you may not be given a choice!)  Rain and wet weather around shearing time will necessitate a change in schedules, so if possible, have an alternative shearing date pencilled in.  Ask the shearer whether he shears on a table, or on the floor, and whether he provides his own table/shearing restraints.  Some shearers also bring along a roustabout, and include payment for the roustabout in their charges – however confirm this with your shearer beforehand, to avoid any unexpected increase in your shearing costs, and also to establish whether you will need to organise additional helpers on the day to cover all jobs.

Fleece testing

Fleece is the ‘harvest’ or ‘crop’ for an alpaca farmer, and if you want to get the best return then you should know what your market is going to be, and to do this you need to know the details of the product you are going to have to offer.  Having your fleeces tested will provide you with some valuable information about your fleece ‘product’, as well as your breeding program, and herd management.  You can either collect samples for testing on shearing day, or two to three weeks beforehand.  Having samples tested prior to shearing will help you make some decisions about the order you will shear your animals and how to handle and sort your fleeces in the shearing shed.  There are a number of providers across Australia who conduct this service, and most will email the results as well as providing a hard copy report.  A small sample approximately a finger width across is taken against the skin from the ‘mid side’ (it is important to collect samples from the same location to ensure consistency), and placed in a bag with the animals identification details (name, IAR number).  These are then sent to the testing authority.

We use Southern Tablelands Fibre Testing at Laggan - www.stft.com.au

Supplies

Check you have your shearing day supplies.  On shearing day you will need:

  • Clear plastic fleece bags (for fleece saddles)
  • Plastic shopping bags (for necks, legs/bellies, hairy pieces).
  • Garbage bags (for soiled fleece).
  • Small bags for fleece samples (paper bags are preferred by most testing labs).
  • Pre-printed name labels/marking pen.
  • Broom and/or dustpan set to clean the shearing table/floor.
  • Old towels – these are useful for animals who pee during shearing.
  • Old socks – these are useful for animals who spit during shearing.
  • Comfortable shoes and a good sense of humour!

If you are also going to complete husbandry tasks such as toenail trimming and 5 in 1 vaccinations on shearing day, then prepare your equipment and supplies beforehand, and be sure to keep toenail clippings separate from fleeces, and dispose of used needles, syringes and vaccines correctly, otherwise these items may contaminate and de-value your fleeces.

Logistics

1.  Location of shearing.

Do you have a designated area where you will have your shearing done?  If you don’t have a designated ‘shearing shed” available, ideally this area should be undercover, protected from wind/sun/moisture, and capable of being swept between shearing each animal.  You will need to make sure the shearers equipment (table/restraints) will fit into this area and that there will be enough room for everyone to move around easily.  If necessary, check that there are suitable points where restraints can be attached.  Prior to shearing day, set up pens and laneways to assist in moving animals from the paddock/pre-shearing area into the shearing area and outwards to the paddock.

2.  Shearing order.

Decide the order in which you will shear the herd.  This may vary depending on the size and make up of your herd.  Generally you would shear the youngest (ie finest micron) and lighter coloured animals first.  If you have animals whose fleeces you are planning to show you may wish to shear these animals first.  You will then need to work out how you will organise these animals on shearing day to bring them to the shearing area in the appropriate order. 

3.  Preparation.

There is a Shearing Shed and Pre-classing Code of Practice on the AAA website (www.alpacas.asn.au) that can be located by looking under “All about Alpacas > Fleece”.  This provides comprehensive guidelines for preparing the shearing shed, animals and fleeces, and is a useful reference for alpaca producers.

4.  Food for the workers.

It's a good idea to have your catering organised beforehand - aim for food that doesn't require any preparation on the day, and make sure you have plenty of water on hand so that you stay hydrated.  Depending on how many animals you have to shear and your shearers schedule, you may need to 'eat on the run', so plan accordingly.  Most of us become a little cranky when we are hungry and/or thirsty, so some preparation beforehand can make things easier on the day.

Post-shearing

In August and September there is always the possibility that the weather will be cold and/or wet following shearing.  For animals that have recently been shorn, they may be at risk of hypothermia if these conditions persist.  Have a contingency plan (shelter, additional feed, coats for young or at-risk animals), in place in case this occurs.

Do something with your fleece!  Don’t let your fleece sit in the garage/shed/spare bedroom, where it can become an attractive haven for moths or mice.  There are buyers for most fleece types in Australia, or you may wish to have it processed for your own requirements.  Buyer and processor contact information is listed on the AAA website, however each have their own pricing, preparation and acceptance requirements, and it is up to individual growers to make their own enquiries and decisions as to the most appropriate destination for their product.  If you don’t have a lot of fleece, consider forming a cluster group with other breeders.

Quick checklist

  • Shearer booked
  • Fleece samples for testing
  • Plastic bags for shorn fleeces
  • Shopping bags for necks/pieces
  • Garbage bags for soiled fleece
  • Labels for fleece bags
  • Shearing order
  • Logistics – animal movement to/from shearing area
  • Shearing area prepared
  • Sorting of fleeces (show fleeces, fleece to sell, process, etc)

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