The shearer and his team came last week, right in the nick of time before the heat. We harvested bags and bags of fiber from the herd, and the bags are safely stored in our fleece room, also known as Dick’s ‘equipment room’. Dual purpose with the focus on protecting the contents from Ragdoll cats.
The difference in how the alpacas look is always amazing, no matter how many years go by. Those necks are so skinny!! The shearing gang has a very smooth operation where two stations are set up in our big main barn. The young assistants get the alpacas and lay them on the mat, trim toenails and teeth if necessary, so the shearer just moves from one station to the other and just shears. Since I gather the fleece and bag it, I follow him back and forth. It takes him less than ten minutes to shear the whole animal. Dick supervises operations and helps the crew when it comes to fetching the boys who live down in the small barn. Our old boy Phoenix lives down there, and at a month short of twenty years old, he’s quite frail. The whole shearing crew was so careful with him and even offered to carry him back down the driveway when he was done, if needed. But the old boy, once they got him into a cush position after shearing, got right up and tottered off on his own.
Shortly after the shearing, the temperatures rocketed up into the nineties, with oppressive humidity. The alpacas were very happy to be shorn and even went out to pasture in the heat.
A few days after shearing, a box of yarn arrived from the mill in Aroostook, Maine. That yarn was from part of the harvest from 2020. Since we hadn’t been able to go to Fairs or have open farm days due to the pandemic, I had been in no hurry to process the fiber for yarn. I finally got around to it in May and the day before I planned on taking it down to my usual mini-mill in Barrington NH, the mill burnt down. We saw it on the morning news and I was horrified. The woman who ran the mill lived in an apartment within the mill building. Fortunately, she woke up and got herself and her dogs out. But the building and all the equipment and her apartment were a total loss. The good news is that she is rebuilding. But I had to find a mill to do the fiber I had sitting, all ready, on our porch. I found the one in northern Maine and off it went. We take our shop vac and suck out all the air in the bags to shrink it all down, and then pack it into big Chewy boxes for mailing. (We love Chewy for a lot of reasons!) Six lots of fiber got to Aroostook in about five days. He sent the yarn back last week and I’m now in the process of washing it all.
When the yarn arrives, it feels quite tacky due to the spinning oils added to the fiber. Alpaca fiber is dry compared to sheep wool, which has natural lanolin, and the static can be an issue with the machinery. The mills add spinning oils to help lubricate it during processing. I wash it with Pantene shampoo, in the washer (no agitating) and then spin out the water, rinse, spin and then hang to dry. Once the skeins are dry, they can be labelled and put into inventory.
Of course, I have bags of fleece upstairs from this year’s harvest that will need to go to the mill, but since I am ‘flush with yarn’ at the moment, I’m not in a rush to skirt and send anything out any time soon.
Meanwhile, the alpacas are probably wishing they had their fleece back this weekend. We’ve not gotten out of the 50’s for three days. But boy did we need the rain!