Alpaca shearing was on June 3rd through the 5th this year, with 12 farms and volunteers coming together. Last year, we had a great time helping 194 alpacas and 4 llamas transform into their Summer attire. Visitors came to watch the shearing and pick out their fleece and alpaca farmers spoke about the latest news and schedule upcoming events and showings. Last year we even had a skunk take part in the festivities, though he didn't seem to enjoy the alpacas chasing after him. Alpaca shearing is a lot of fun and a lot of work!
Most alpacas have 5 to 10 lbs of fleece that is separated according to its quality / fineness of fiber and color (there are 22 natural colors of alpacas). We shear once a year in late spring depending on the weather. We then use the fiber to make alpaca clothing, such as alpaca socks, winter hats, fishing hats, sweaters, alpaca saddle pads, blankets, yarn and scarves.
The Blanket, or where the saddle would go on a horse and part of the rump, are shorn first. This is the primary, softest fleece on the alpaca. It is used for alpaca clothing close to the skin, such as a hat, sweater, scarf or under shirt.
The neck, legs and belly are used as "Seconds" which are not quite as soft and vary in length. It is used for alpaca rugs, socks and felting. We also sell alpaca fleece directly in a variety of colors.
The entire alpaca shearing process usually takes about 10 minutes.
Why is alpaca fleece so valuable?
Alpaca Fiber is as soft as cashmere and warmer, lighter and stronger than wool. There are more natural colors (22) than any other fiber producing animal. This cashmere-like fleece, once reserved for Incan royalty, is now enjoyed around the world. The fiber is a thermal insulator and absorbs ambient humidity, thus affording greater protection and comfort in a variety of climates. The fiber will not burn unless it is in direct contact with a flame and therefore offers the wearer greater safety. High strength and elasticity make this fiber highly durable and lasting longer.
Alpaca is flame resistant, meeting the standards of the US Consumer Product Safety Commission's rigid testing specifications as a Class 1 fiber for use in clothing and furnishings.
Alpacas water resistant, making spills easy to clean up before water saturates the fiber allowing stain to develop. It is also absorbent to oils, meaning that the oils do not penetrate the fibers, but merely cling to the fiber for easy cleaning without harsh chemicals.
Alpaca is resistant to external water penetration like wool, but can slowly wick away perspiration because of its unique ability to act like cotton in moisture regain. These factors are what makes alpaca feel lighter than wool, but warmer than cotton in cool, damp conditions. Alpaca is free of lanolin, and thus can be processed without theneed for high temperatures or harsh chemicals in washing.
Alpaca is a natural renewable fiber with a wide range of applications.
- Royal Alpaca - finer than 18 microns
- Super Fine / Baby Alpaca - finer than 20 microns
- Fine - finer than 25 micron
Medium - under 30 micron
Strong - 30 microns and greater
Mixed Pieces - short fibers, coarser than 32 microns - used for felting
* A micron is a measurement of length equal to one millionth of a meter and used to measure the width of a single alpaca fiber to determine its fineness / softness. Most human hair is at least 100 microns, 5 times thicker than alpaca fiber
Annual alpaca shearing days under way
By AMANDA RICKER, Chronicle Staff Writer, The Bozeman Daily Chronicle, May 9, 2011
About 200 alpacas and llamas from across the Gallatin and Paradise valleys gathered in Bozeman this week for an annual spring rite - a haircut.
Alpacas of Montana is shearing the animals Sunday through Tuesday. The owners of eight different farms pack up their alpacas and haul them to a barn off South Cottonwood Road. The animals wind up with a cool summer cut, while the owners get soft fibers to make into sweaters, hats and other items. "We're the largest alpaca farm in Montana, so we really try to help the folks in our network," said James Budd, 44, who owns Alpacas of Montana with his wife Sarah.
Mostly, it's alpacas getting a trim. Alpacas and llamas look a lot alike, but alpacas are half the size of llamas and have a different coat. Alpaca owners generally have a llama or two to guard their alpacas against dogs, coyotes and other predators, Budd said.
On Sunday, alpacas and llamas were led one-by-one into a barn, stretched out on the ground with ropes and shaved with an electric razor. The animals squirm a bit, but they seldom spit.
"It's kind of like not all dogs bite," Budd said. "These guys will occasionally spit because they are members of the camelid (species.)"
Once sprawled out, the animals appeared to relax and resign to the haircut. After the five-minute trim, they're turned out to a pasture to graze and check out their friends' similarly bare style.
Marty Hofmann, a journeyman shearer, buzzes everything but the alpaca's face and legs. Leaving those patches of hair is helpful to display the animal's coat in the event the owner wants to sell it, Budd said. Hofmann also trims the animals' toenails and teeth if they need it.
Hofmann, who grew up shearing alpacas with his father and brother in Malta, is touring Montana, Minnesota, Texas and other states this spring with a two-man crew, shearing sheep, llama and alpacas. The trick to shearing, Hofmann said, is having strong hands and ropes holding the animals down.
Budd stopped shearing his own alpacas after a llama kicked a blade into his calf a few years ago.
"There's an art to it," Budd said.
Hofmann first shaves the alpaca's "blanket" or mid-section. He's careful to shear it in long sections. The mid-section is the softest and most valuable part of the alpaca's coat.
Alpaca fiber is softer than cashmere, two times stronger than sheep's wool and almost completely waterproof, Budd said.
Hofmann shaves the alpaca's underbelly, neck and upper legs after its midsection. Called "seconds," this fiber is often used to make products that don't need to be as soft, such as rugs and socks.
While Hofmann is shearing, the owner of each animal gathers the shorn fibers into plastic bags to take home. Each alpaca yields an average of seven pounds of fiber, Budd said.
Jennifer Reed brought her 11 alpacas and one llama to be sheared.
Reed, of Jackson Creek, located halfway between Bozeman and Livingston, has come to Alpacas of Montana's shearing days every year for five years. She bought her alpacas from the Budd family and uses the fibers to design and knit sweaters, vests and other products for sale.
Alpacas of Montana sends its fiber to mills in Montana where it's made into yarn. Then, 28 knitters across the state turn the yarn into long underwear, hats, baby booties and other items.
The Budd family’s Alpacas of Montana is a vertically integrated business, raising alpacas and making yarn, fleece products and alpaca compost manure. Along the way, the company sells alpacas, the yarn and a few pieces of clothing made from the fiber, like hats, alpaca scarves, gloves and blankets.