Monday, May 30, 2011
Well, better late than never. Here's the article on shearing that I promised. It has been published in the Hoosier Hummer, and I may submit it again for the summer edition (or maybe something on showing instead...). It's getting hot, hope everyone is shearing their llamas!
As spring approaches, so does shearing time. Coats are getting shaggy and summer’s heat is approaching. Whether for fiber collection, show preparation, or just heat stress prevention, shearing is a necessary part of life with llamas.
There are many different types of cuts that can be used on llamas. The amount of fiber removed can depend on temperature, purpose for shearing, and personal preference. The most common cut for llamas is the barrel cut.
This just takes off the fiber from between the withers (shoulder) and hips- all the way around the belly of the llama. A great cut for breeding llamas is the extended barrel cut. It removes all the fiber from the belly (same as the barrel cut), as well as fiber on top part of the back legs and around the tail. This is wonderful for nursing mothers because crias can easily find the udder to nurse.
A modification of this cut can include a strip shorn around the chest. This allows for a larger amount of air movement under the legs and belly.
For really warm climates or llamas with very matted fiber, the best cut is the body cut. This removes all of the fiber on the neck, legs, and belly, but leaves fiber on the tail. Some people leave a ring of fiber at the top of the neck, and others leave the fiber on the bottom of the legs.
These cuts can also be combined and changed to fit the needs of each particular llama. If you have a young llama that you want to keep in full fleece while still cooling it off, you can shear a small strip of fiber from the underside of the belly.
Several different types of equipment can be used to shear llamas. The most obvious piece needed is a set of shears- either hand or electric. Sheep shears are the most common type of hand shears used. In a pinch, scissors can also be used. Hand shears are very simple to use, and can produce a good finish with a bit of practice. They are also a lot less expensive.
Electric shears are more expensive, but they typically produce a better finish. Almost any type can be used, from dog and horse clippers to sheep shears, and almost anything in between.
Other equipment can also be helpful. A blower of some sort, even a leaf blower, is great to use to get rid of the inevitable dust that accumulates on a llama. Various types of brushes are also good to remove hay and other vegetable matter in the fleece.
A quick note about using electric clippers/shears: make sure to read the manual and learn how to correctly care for them. Learn how to adjust the tension and clean the blades. The most important thing is to always keep the blades oiled- most brands recommend doing this every 1-5 minutes. It also helps to completely remove and clean the blades between llamas.
A couple things must be done before shearing can begin. All llamas should be blown out and brushed, if only to prolong the life of the shears or blades. If you want to harvest the fiber for later use, there are other steps that can also be done.
It helps to wash the llama after it is brushed out, to completely remove dust and debris. Just make sure to allow the fiber to completely dry before shearing- it works well to wash on a warm and slightly windy day. When washing a llama, think ahead about a place for them to dry. If the llama is used to being on a stake-out line, that works well. However, young or inexperienced llamas should be allowed to dry in a pen or clean pasture. I’ve seen too many llamas get their leg wrapped in the stake-out line, so I always use a small pen for drying. Don’t just put a wet llama back in the pasture- there are too many dust bowls and other things to make them dirty! There are many different types of shampoos that work well with llamas. I’ve had success with all types of shampoo and conditioner, from llama and dog to horse and human! The most important point is to make sure to completely rinse the shampoo out of the fiber- spend more time rinsing than you think you need to. Conditioner can also be used, but beware of a residue or scent that could stay on the fiber. Again, just make sure to completely rinse it out. If you are short on time, just groom out and wash the barrel of the llama- after all, that is all you will be shearing.
Another important thing to think about is where you will be shearing your llama(s). Very well behaved and well trained llamas can be shorn in a small pen while unhaltered. Others may need the use of a chute. It is also very easy to shear a llama that is haltered and tied to a fence or post. A distraction for the llama, in the form of food, helps immensely. Have a helper feed the llama while you shear, or work someplace where a bowl of food can be easily placed in front of the llama. For very unruly animals, there are several herbal and over-the-counter calming aids that can work miracles. Just make sure that the llama is safe where ever it is to be shorn.
Now that the llama is clean (and dry), it is time to start shearing. I like to start along the topline. Use a brush to part the llama’s fiber, and then start shearing.
I find it easier to start at the top and work down towards the bottom of the belly. Keep in mind where you want your cut to end, and stay a few inches away from those imaginary lines. When most of the fiber has been removed, go back and cut along the edges (around the shoulders and hips).
Even if you don’t plan on using the fiber that is shorn, it is easier to collect it all as you go, instead of letting it accumulate on the floor. Garbage bags, paper grocery bags, and even feed bags work- just open one up and set it next to where you stand. Shear with one hand and grab the fiber with the other, depositing it in the bag as you go.
If you plan on using the fiber, there are several helpful tips to keep in mind. The most obvious one is to make sure that the llama is really clean before shearing. It is much easier to clean the fiber while it is still on the llama. Definitely make sure to have bags of some kind to collect the fiber in. Paper grocery bags work well- they are clean and only take 1-3 per llama. Another important thing to remember is to try to avoid second cuts of fiber. These little bits of fiber produce knots and bumps in yarn when spun. I prefer to shear the llama first with hand shears, as it is easier to see where you are cutting and avoid producing second cuts. Once the bulk of the fiber is off, go back with electrics or the hand shears again and smooth out the fiber. There is really no use for second cuts- just put them in a SEPARATE bag and throw them away.
Congratulations, you now have a shorn llama. This is a great time to take new pictures- everyone is clean and freshly shorn!