Monday, May 30, 2011

Shearing time!

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!

Shearing Time

            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!  

Monday, May 23, 2011

Weekend on the farm!

Well I finally got to go home to the farm for a weekend!  It's a good thing too, I had a lot of chores to catch up on.

First and most important on the list was getting little miss Annie shorn for the summer.  She doesn't produce a lot of fleece (it is very fine), and she was shorn mid-June last year, so I wanted to give her a few more weeks of growth than the rest of the herd.  So Saturday I groomed her thoroughly and blew her out with our wonderful Circuiteer blower, and then bathed her.  Luckily it was a lot warmer this weekend than a few weeks ago when I sheared the rest of the herd.  Annie was so well behaved too!  She doesn't like being in the chute (she laid down both when I was grooming her and when I was shearing her), but she stood very well to get groomed in the catch pen and to get washed just tied to the fence.  I was pleasantly surprised!  And now I have a gorgeous bag (well, half of a bag) of black fleece ready to spin!  It is going to get blended with Ridge's fleece (who is Annie's dad) and processed into roving for me to spin.  I'm thinking a beautiful grey (black + white = grey) shawl.

Annie's fabulous fleece before she was shorn last spring.
Annie during her first bath last summer.  She behaved much better this year!
While I had the electric clippers ready, I also finished Ralph's shear job.  He got his haircut at the Hillsdale Hobo Show in Michigan a few weeks ago (standing in a chute just like a llama!), but we couldn't finish the fluff around his face because of his halter getting in the way.  So this weekend we carefully clipped the cheek fuzz around his face so that he looks more "normal"!

Ralph after his haircut a few years back.  His legs are quite a bit fuzzier this year!
And last but not least, my remaining German Angora rabbit Latte needed her haircut too!  Unfortunately my parents had let her go a little too long without a belly trim, so she was quite matted underneath.  But it was nothing that an hour with a pair of dog trimming scissors couldn't fix!  I kept the nice belly fiber to spin into novelty yarn, and the prime (back) fiber for spinning or to sell in my Etsy store.    She's much cooler now!  Depending on how she handles the heat I will shear her again in July or August, along with monthly belly trims.

Latte after her trim a few years ago.
I'm going to try and post an article I wrote about shearing llamas sometime later this week.  I figure it is very appropriate for the time of year, and hopefully it will be helpful.

Looking into the coming weeks, our second show of the season is the first weekend in June (the Allen County Open in Fort Wayne, IN).  I was supposed to go to a show last weekend, but it was cancelled due to lack of entries.  I may add on another short one-day show in June (the Vermillion County Fair in Cayuga, IN June 18th), but I haven't quite decided yet.  If anyone would like information on some great little shows in western Indiana/eastern Illinois this summer, just let me know and I will pass it along!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Llama Biography #1: Casa Loma's Little Sheba

I couldn't quite come up with a good topic for a post this morning, so I decided to start my "Llama Biography" series.  Starting from the beginning (way back in November 1999), I'm going to talk about all the llamas that have been a part of our farm.  It is going to take quite awhile to get through all of them!  Hopefully it will give you a good idea of how our farm and breeding program has evolved over the years.

Casa Loma's Little Sheba was the very first llama that we ever purchased.  After coming home from yet another family backpacking trip, we decided that llamas might be a fun addition to the family, so we started calling farms in the area and arranging to visit.  Casa Loma Llamas in Mooresville, Indiana was the first farm that we went to.  Lana Coffey, the owner, showed us around her farm and introduced us to several young female llamas.  Sheba was just a tiny thing then, only about 4 months old, and Lana haltered her up and walked her around.  It was during that visit that I got my very first llama kiss (from Sheba).  I was hooked!

Baby Sheba the first time we met her.

Since Sheba wasn't quite old enough to leave the farm that summer, nor were we ready to house any llamas at our farm, we instead made several more visits to the Coffey's farm over the fall, learning about llamas and playing with Sheba.  In November, she and 3 other llamas from another farm arrived at our house, and our llama adventure had begun!

Sheba was my very first 4-H llama too.  We both began in the program the next spring, at Shagbark Ridge Llamas in Noblesville, Indiana.  Sheba was very sweet and beautiful, but she was not the most willing 4-H companion, so it was an interesting summer.  We showed at the 4-H fair and a couple of other shows, but after that year I retired Sheba from the show ring.  She would be a mom instead.

Sheba and I as mountain climbers in a costume class at the 2000 Indiana State Fair.

Sheba was bred for the first time when she was just over 2 years old.  We found a beautiful male to breed her to, and sent her and another female down for their dates.  Almost a year later, Sheba had her first cria, Charity.  Charity looked just like her dad, but had her mom's beautiful fiber.


A few months after Charity was born Sheba had a very bad health scare.  She somehow contracted Salmonella, and spent 2-3 weeks at the vet school at Purdue University.  She lost almost 75 pounds, but she made it through and kept her cria healthy the whole time.

The next fall Sheba was again bred, and gave us a fabulous little cria in 2003, Faith.  In 2005, Sheba had her last cria for our farm.  Unfortunately, she had a difficult delivery, and her cria was born about 2 weeks early.  We spent 5 days trying to keep her cria, who we named Snowflake Obsidian (Sid for short), alive, but he succumbed to sepsis after a plasma transfer.



Sheba was rebred, and then sold to be an alpaca companion for a farm in Ohio.  She went on to deliver another beautiful female cria, and still has a great home.

Sheba, her last summer on the farm.

Monday, May 9, 2011

I want a baby!! (llama that is...)

I miss having baby llamas on the farm!  I keep seeing post after post on Facebook about farms that have had crias born this spring, and I'm so jealous!  I know that it isn't responsible, but sometimes I wish I could have 4-5 crias born each spring and fall...they are so much fun!

Fall 2005 crias: (L-R) Trillium, Catastrophie, April (the big female laying down), and Inali.  That was such a fun year!

Now that I'm in grad school, we've made the decision to downsize our herd and quit breeding.  I just don't have the time to train and show crias like I used to.  However, after losing my precious Lily (born in October 2010, she would've been our last cria) in January to a dog attack, I had to re-think the idea of not breeding our one remaining female llama (Bluff, Lily's mom).  It was a big more difficult logistically since I had already sold our herdsire Ridge, but with a little bit of work Ridge made it back to the farm for a short visit, and Bluff has been rebred (well, hopefully, we're still in the process of making sure the breeding took)!

Autumn Hill's Iliamna (aka Lily) at one month of age (her mom Bluff is in the background)

So even though it seems like forever from now, I will get one more llama cria of my own in mid-April next year!  I really hope Bluff has a girl, but if she has a boy I may just have to rebreed her again and keep trying...

Bluff and her first cria, Rainier.  I can't wait to see that sight again!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Welcome to the blog!

Welcome to my brand-new blog!  I've decided that since the farm is no longer breeding on a regular basis, and thus won't have any llamas to sell in the foreseeable future, it doesn't quite make sense to maintain a $100/yr website.  But I love talking about llamas (and knitting/spinning), so I'm going to try blogging.

With graduate school occupying most of my time now, I probably won't be able to blog on a daily basis, but I'm going to try and at least post weekly.  Some posts will be about the farm, some about my knitting and spinning projects, and if there's interest, I'm hoping to do quite a few "how-to" or "question and answer" posts (mostly about llamas).

Thanks for checking out my blog, and please leave any questions or comments!

The herd, fall 2009.