Shearing day is on April 30th, and it will be quite a production, I think. We are sharing a shearer at another farm, which means that we will have to halter up all the elapses, load them into a trailer, and then take the to be shorn. Our adult females are all only marginal on halters, and I expect at least one of them to hate shearing with a loud passion.
This brings up the question of what alpaca ranches do with the pounds of fleece they are presented with each year. Our six animals ought to produce perhaps thirty pounds of fleece of widely varying quality and color. As much as I am enjoying spinning, I do not plan on processing all of this fleece by hand. In the next posting, I think I'll discuss the many ways to dealing with fleeces, but here I'm going to talk about show fleeces.
You might remember that El Barto didn't get a ribbon at the Heart of the Valley show last month. There are many possible reasons for this, but my personal favorite is that he was too young to do well in a confirmation show. So, I am going to enter his fleece only into a show or two and see how he does. Just for kicks, I think I'm going to enter the fleece of our new alpaca Antonio (Tony for short) as well. He's a pretty bay black, and Barto is white, so we'll have each end of the color spectrum covered. This first show is a sheep-oriented show where an alpaca fleece won grand champion last year. It's not really fair to compare sheep and alpaca, but I'm not going to worry about the ethics of it; they allow it, so they've considered the ramifications themselves. (right?)
This means that I will have to learn how to prepare a fleece for a show. My friend Polly McCrea of Fern Hill Ranch will help me because she's a veteran alpaca rancher and has show fleeces and animals. I'll let you all know what the process is once I learn it. I know it involves skirting, picking, and bagging, but I'm sure it is more complicated than just that.
We are also going to take fiber samples from many of our animals to see how they are doing micron-wise. In this process, the shearer takes a patch of fiber a couple inches square and the rancher sends it in to one of a few companies that measures how fine the fiber is, how uniform, etc. These statistics can be very useful if you are selling an animal because a small micron count and very uniform fleece are selling points.
Another thing that this test can tell you is if you are feeding your alpacas correctly. If they have too much protein in their diets, their fleece can become coarser. It will be interesting over the next couple of years to see how or if our alpacas fleeces are affected. Nearly all alpacas' fleeces become coarser as they age, but sometimes this process can be slowed by altering their diets. However, I don't recommend that newcomers (myself included) monkey with the nutrition of their alpacas just to strive for finer fleece. This involves giving the alpacas a poorer diet. Extreme cases could result in a lack of fiber quality and a starving animal. I'm not confident enough to play with those risks, and I don't think any newcomer should, either.
Anyway, I'm rambling a bit. Feed your animals to maintain a good body score and let the fleeces come naturally. Some of them will be show-quality.