A Taste of Life at Windrush Alpacas

April 9, 2007

Shorn Fleeces – Cleanliness is Key

Filed under: alpaca, Alpaca Care, Alpaca Fiber, Alpaca Shows, Alpacas, camelids, Crias, General — alpacalady @ 7:36 am

Cloudy in Sheep CoverAs we continue to keep our fingers crossed that the weather will allow us to start our shearing next weekend, our thoughts are very much on the shearing process and what we will do with our fleeces after shearing.

While my mind is in “fleece mode” I thought it would be a good time to discuss some of the things that make for a successful shearing day and great marketable fleeces and fleece products.

One of the keys to making your fleeces desirable to customers (whether they be an individual handspinner or a commercial mill) is cleanliness of the fleece.

When we first started with our alpacas, cleanliness of our fleeces was a real challenge.  At that time we were trying to keep green pastures and only seemed to be able to raise a bumper crop of grass burrs – not what you want to have in your fleeces.  Try as we might to find the burrs and eradicate them we were not successful, yet the alpacas had an uncanny knack of finding the burr patch and rolling in it, which would distribute a nice collection of burrs into their fleeces.

The other factor we had to deal with is the fine red sand that is in our area.  With our winds and the alpacas love of rolling, it did not take long before fine red sand was deep into the alpacas fleeces.

These two factors partially led to our decision to put our alpacas on dry lots.  They also led us to start using sheep covers on our alpacas, especially those going to show.

The cover we use is a Matilda Sheep Cover that was developed in Australia.  The cover is made of a breathable material which is tough enough to stand up to the daily life of an alpaca.  (The picture at the top of today’s blog entry is of our alpaca Windrush Cloudmaster wearing his Matilda Sheep Cover).

The covers really do help keep the vegatation and dust out of the fleeces.  Although the covers are breathable we typically do not put them on our alpacas until mid to late September when our temperaturs start to drop a little.  The covers are then left on until shearing day.

The alpacas don’t seem to mind the covers too much.   The crias typically buck and kick a little after their first cover is put on but once they are used to them they do not seem to even notice them.  I have seen one alpaca who did panic and just could not take to the sheep cover, the cover was removed quickly and it was decided that it was in his best interests not to try to put it back on him until he had matured a little more.

The covers come in different sizes and it is important that you select the right size.  If the cover is too big you can sometimes get an alpaca who manages to get both hind legs through one of the leg straps, or who goes to scratch and gets his or her leg tucked into the edge of the cover.  If the cover is too small it can compress the fleece and cause felting around the edge of the fleece which is not desirable.  As the alpacas and their fleeces grow it is important to check that the cover is still a good fit and does not need changing.  We check our covers during herd health day every month and change them to a different size if necessary.

The fleece from underneath the covers is beautifully clean and makes skirting the blanket portion of the fleece a much quicker and easier task.  We are happy as the covers save us a lot of skirting time and the processors are happy to see nice clean fleeces arrive at their facility.

We are aware of some breeders who are cautious about using the sheep covers on their show alpacas as they feel that the judges will mark down their alpaca in the show ring.  We have not found this to be a problem (and have the ribbons to prove it!).  The covers do cause a line in the fleece where the edge of the cover sits but we find if we take the covers off once we have arrived at the show ground by the time the alpacas go into the show ring the line has started to fluff up and is not asnoticeable.  There is nothing in the AOBA Show Rules that prohibits the use of sheep covers and while we have had several comments and questions from judges about the covers our alpacas have always placed well. 

At the end of the day while we do raise our alpacas to sell and show, we also raise them for their beautiful fleece and as the sheep covers help us to maintain beautiful, marketable fleeces I will continue to use them.



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