Fiesty alpaca no match for shearing team

April 21, 2008|By TIM ROWLAND

Six months ago, when I first wrote about our alpaca acquisition, I received a nice note from Sue Hull of Clear Spring, welcoming me into the alpaca fold and asking if we had a shearer lined up to cut their fleece in the spring.

I was happy to be able to provide her with an answer: I told her I didn't know.

Through the course of the year, alpacas grow thick, luxurious layers of fleece, and as this happens, they rather look like a balloon that is very slowly inflating. At some point, something has to be done about this, or each alpaca would take up about 1 square acre of space.

Also, this coat is not terribly comfortable in the summer for a creature used to the high altitudes and cooler temperatures of the Andes. So Sue was kind enough to put us on her shearing list, and on April 16, she and two veteran shearers, Christopher and Ron, arrived at the farm to do the deed.


Since the day before was tax day, I felt the date was meaningful, as we would be getting fleeced two days in a row. (For the record, the people at home are getting Very Tired of this joke, but in my opinion, it's timeless).

I don't know what my preconceived notion of an alpaca shearing was, exactly. I guess I kind of assumed it would be like any visit to the beauty shop -- the alpaca would stand there while the stylist snipped casually away, and the two of them would gossip about whose children had been expelled from school for sniffing magic markers.

But whatever I had in mind, this wasn't it. Christopher, the shearer, and Ramon, the headsman, asked us to bring in the most difficult animal first. That would be little Basilio, a nut-brown elf of an alpaca who kind of has short-man's syndrome -- if they wanted difficult, we had difficult.

But the animal was no match for this team, which with well-choreographed quickness, hog-tied him, stretched him out on a mat and fired up the electric clippers. The headsman spins the alpaca, almost as if it were on a spit, so all sides can be quickly shorn. And it's in the headsman's interest to do it right, since for every mistake, Christopher -- who shears up to 100 alpacas a day --demands a six-pack of beer in payment. (A shy, retreating type who really needs to come out of his shell, Christopher tosses jolly, good-natured insults to his co-workers' faces, but when their backs are turned, he speaks of them in glowing, appreciative terms. I found this interesting, since it is backward from the way most people behave.)

While this was taking place, Beth gave him a shot (Basilio, not Christopher), Sue did his nails and I stood around with a mild discomfort at being so useless. I felt like I ought to be giving him a mudpack or something. Basilio, meanwhile, contributed to the exercise by shrieking his lungs out. I'm pretty sure they were shrieks of joy, however.

Christopher is an artist, and Basilio left the procedure looking elegant, with stylish tufts of longer fur left on his legs and forehead. But when he got back into the holding pen, the rest of the boys acted just as if they were in middle school -- razzing him about his new haircut, kicking, punching, spitting and being truly sociable.

Only when they woke up to the fact that they would be next did they settle down a bit. The other three were more stoic about their trimmings and, frankly, far less entertaining. They are older and know the drill.

And now I do, too. Next year, I'll be ready with the mudpack.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2324, or by e-mail at You can listen to his podcast, The Rowland Rant, on

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