Shear bliss: Herd receives trim during annual shearing day at Sopris Alpaca Farm
They’re not going into the army, but these gentle giants all shared the same hairdo after the clippers were finished.
Inside a cozy barn at the Sopris Alpaca Farm on Saturday, 60 alpacas were trimmed of their fiber-rich fleece during the farm’s annual shearing day.
By the time they were through, each alpaca looked naked — except for their scruffy heads. Their bouncy bangs were left untouched.
“You won’t see the shear lines in about a week,” farm owner Kim Wesson said. “It grows back pretty fast.”
By November, the alpacas at this farm, located in the Peach Valley area near Silt, will in fact wear a full fleece, Wesson said. That’s when the show season begins, which runs until about May.
“They have to have to have full fiber, so we shear right now so the fiber’s off for the summer so they don’t get too hot,” Wesson said.
The process takes about less than 10 minutes.
The alpacas, waiting in a nearby pen, were led one by one to a work crew of about 6 to 8 people. Before each alpaca made it to the barn, however, someone would brush them down with a scruffy brush and blast their fur with an air hose.
Adult males were first to go, then the pregnant alpacas, then the cria — the babies.
The crew would help wrestle down an alpaca and tie it with a rope to get started.
As one person would shave off the alpaca’s heavy coat, two others would apply a vaccination and clip the animal’s nails, respectively. Meanwhile, if an alpaca’s teeth (alpacas only have bottom teeth) were too long, they’d also get a trimming.
“The alpaca is so different from the sheep when they are sheared,” spectator Andi Struble said. The public was welcome to come to watch for free. “You can really see the anatomy of them so much better.”
Struble said she grew up on a farm in Maine, where her love for animals started. But amid her great exposure to animals, she never got to watch an alpaca’s fleece get harvested.
“I think it’s very interesting,” she said. “I’ve seen sheep, where they put ‘em up and hold them; I’ve never seen it quite like this. But I think it would be freeing for the animals to get rid of all that (fleece) and everything.”
Going under the clippers can be an uncomfortable experience for some alpacas. Some of them acted natural and calm. Others were more animated, squeaking and struggling to stay put.
Tom Iamonico, a well-seasoned shearer who first learned the trade in New Zealand, was the expert barber behind the clippers. Originally from Salida, he owns Surefire Shearing in Aurora.
“There is no perfect (shave),” Iamonico said with a chuckle as he cleaned the clippers before the next animal was ready. “But, if there was a perfect one, the trick is, you’ve got to have skill.”
Iamonico is in his 11th season of shearing and started this season three months ago.
“We travel all around the country. We start off in Texas, go to Kansas, all the way up to Washington and get to see a fair bit of the country, a lot of beautiful places and meet a lot of great people,” he said. “They’ve got an awesome set up here (and) you get to stay and see the animals. It’s good for the whole family.”
When the process is finished, each alpaca can yield up to about 10 pounds of fleece, Wesson said.
When the fleeces are harvested, they’re processed into yarn and dryer balls.
The yarn is used to make an assortment of items, including blankets, scarves, sweaters, gloves and even soles for shoes. From there, the products are sold off at the farm’s gift shop.
Sometimes, an alpaca is sold off entirely. Fellow farm owner Cory Wesson said based on the amount of fiber found in the wool, a 180-pound male could go for anywhere from $500 to $30,000 a head. The Sopris Alpaca Farm breeds about 20 alpacas per year.
The Wessons have owned and operated their farm for the past three years but have kept alpacas for the past 10 years.
“We actually rescued a herd in the beginning, just because they needed a home,” Kim said. “And then we wanted to find a property that we could open up to the public. We found this property about three years ago so we could open it up to the community and people can come back and get a bit of alpaca life and farm life. It’s been wonderful.”
One person becoming well acquainted with the alpaca life is Diane Welter, a farm helper who spends a lot of time basking among the pens and feeding the scruffy creatures.
She also helps manufacture products from the operation.
“I’ve been able to get their empty feed bags and recycle them into shopping bags, and they sell them in the boutique. They’re $10,” she said.
Each feedbag weighs about 40 to 50 pounds with the grain inside.
“They’re plastic,” she said. “I turn them inside out, I wash them in the shower and I scrub ‘em up really good and sew them and make handles out of part of the bag.”
This marks the second year Welter is helping out on the farm. She said she loves the alpacas so much in fact, her blood pressure drops the second she pulls up to the property.
“They’re gentle, they’re sweet, they’re fun,” she said of alpacas. “My favorite one is Raspberry, who has just a little peripheral vision left. I can go to the fence and most of the time he’ll come over to me when I talk to him. But they’re just very sweet, docile animals.”
This is a day Welter truly looks forward to because of the gift of life. With one alpaca expecting, people were having a guessing contest to see when it will birth.
Once that took place, they’d likely name the newborn cria “Shear Bliss.”
Reporter Ray K. Erku can be reached at 612-423-5273 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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