After writing recently about summer jobs on the farm we had one outstanding job for the season, to shear the alpaca. This is a highly skilled job and there are very few full time shearers in the UK. A few years ago we discovered Colin. He treats the animals with great care, never hurts or nicks them and is reliable turning up on time. For us this makes him the choice for our alpaca, even if it means waiting our turn, as Colin covers the whole of the UK and northern Europe too.
We had just gone into the summer heat wave when our date came along and our two boys Toffee and Caramel must have been longing to shed their winter layer. Thankfully their coats were beautifully dry so we were able to leave them out in the field until the evening before being sheared. They spent the night in Nick’s shed in a makeshift pen ready for an early 8am start. The temperature didn’t drop below 23 degrees that night so we had to provide plenty of fresh water to keep them comfortable.
It as if the alpaca know Colin. They are as good as gold as he approaches and carries them to the shearing mat, making them look as though they weigh nothing!
So where does the Ann Summers Party come in?
Shearing the alpaca is a great spectator sport and we had invited any early risers staying to come and join us to see an expert at work. Nick is always full of funny quips and when a guest asked how did the shearer manage to handle our flighty pair, he explained the restraining devise used akin to something you might buy in Ann Summers or read in 50 Shades of Gray! This certainly caused a chuckle amongst the parents and a curiosity to come and see.
Colin and his new helper soon had Caramel trussed up and splayed out between two of Nick’s tractors. There was no squirming from here! the neck bean bag, prevents them from trying to sit up or jerk up and hurt themselves but is light enough not to hurt at all.
Deftly he set to work beginning at their back and progressing round to their tummy, legs, neck and finally a little hair do on the top. There are 3 phases to shearing and 3 different grades used accordingly. The back fleece is the softest and thickest and used for spinning and garment making while working down towards the tummy and legs the hair becomes sparser and course. This is used more in stuffing, for example pillows.
Toes were trimmed and teeth checked before moving onto doing the same for Toffee.
Colin is used to Coombe Mill and having an audience as he also does demonstrations at the Royal Devon show. The children were mesmerized and full of questions. I invited them to come and stroke the alpaca while they were strapped down and feel their fur. Then after Colin showed them how the different grades of wool felt different to touch.
Uses for Alpaca Wool
He showed them how to spin the wool in their fingers for knitting and explained how to make felt and gave each child a handful of wool to take away with them. I was left promising we would make something with the wool in activity hour later in the week. Our local carpenter wanted the lower grade wool for stuffing a pillow and the rest will go to our local crofter who will spin it and make beautiful rugs.
The alpaca looked visibly cooler if somewhat naked pack in their pen. A good drink and some food and they were happy.
However there was a nasty dose of wormer in store for the naked pair from Farmer Nick before they were returned to the field to frolic around and enjoy the summer sun.
For the children who came along, it was a once in a lifetime experience that I think will stay with them forever, to me this is learning made fun at its best. One family sent me a photo of this cute little alpaca they made with their take home souvenir fleece. They had washed and felted it first just as Colin had explained. I was true to my word and we made toilet roll people with crazy hair for activity hour that Friday and turned them into skittles at our garden fete party.
“Tales from the farmers wife” shares life on our lovely holiday farm with Farmer Nick and our 6 children. Step into our beautiful 30 acres and experience nature close up with farming and educational crafts in stunning North Cornwall. Family, fun and adventure start here.