It’s that time of year again. Spa day for the llamas, though they don’t look at it that way. And for that matter, neither do we. Shearing day is a day of sheer agony for all involved. When the daytime temperatures get into the 80’s and the nights are safe from freezing we give our 8 llamas their annual spring haircut. We do this for the comfort and health of the llamas, not merely as a fashion statement. And we get all that luscious fiber that we can make things with; socks, rugs, scarves, mittens. I also create little sculpted animal figures with their fiber by a process called needle felting. I sell these items in my Etsy Shop online.
I’m sure from the llamas perspective, it is the animal version of the Spanish Inquisition. For their safety, we restrain them in a chute so that they can’t jump around and accidently get poked with the scissors. We try to make the occasion as stress free as possible. I’ve seen videos where the llamas are “hog tied”; their feet bound with rope and forced to lay on their sides with their legs stretched tight. This must be “shear terror” for the llamas. Imagine going to the barber shop for a haircut. You walk in and the staff rushes at you, puts you in a straight jacket, ties you to the chair and proceeds to run a buzzing clipper all around your ears. At least you are just having your head trimmed, and the clipper is not running around your tummy and under your tail. We have always used scissors rather than electric shears. This is just a personal preference. Electric shears are much faster, but cut very close to the body and leave a “skint” look. With the scissors, we can leave about a ½ inch of wool, so that they don’t risk getting sun burned and don’t look “nekkid”. At first the cut has a ruffled look, but that evens out in about two weeks time.
The day starts with grooming the llamas. They love to roll in the dirt. I think it helps to cool them off, like putting talcum powder on after your bath. To remove most of the dirt, we use a reverse vacuum that blows forced air into their coat and loosens the dust and debris. Then we brush each llama to remove the remaining grass and hay that gets stuck in their hair. The worst area is the “lint trap”, the area at the base of the neck. For some reason, everything seems to congregate in this area so we take extra care to brush all the crud out before we use the scissors. Grit and vegetable matter will dull the blades in no time flat.
Now the shearing begins. It’s really quite painless, and after 10 years of going through this, you’d think they would remember that they are not getting killed, and that it actually feels cool and wonderful once all that hot wool is cut off of them. Some take it better than others. And typically we take the easy ones first and save the dreaded ones for last. But this year we decided to go ahead and tackle the difficult llamas first while we were fresh and energized. And the worst of all is our alpha, Santiago. The herd leader; brave watchman of the night, bold protector of the pasture and chaser of bears; he cowers and cries like a baby when we make the first snip of his flowing locks. Maybe he has a Samson complex.
From the moment he stepped into the chute, Santiago kushed (lay down). This was a bad indicator, for in years past, he’s waited at least 10 minutes before starting his antics and allowed us to get a few good snips in. But we were prepared for him this year. Last November, at the GALA llamas conference, we purchased a cinch strap designed especially for this purpose. We placed it under his belly and secured it to the top of the chute so he couldn’t kush anymore. He was mad as a hornet and kept shifting from front to back, kneeling as much as the cinch would allow, and then popping back up, so that it was like trying to shear a llama on a pogo stick. But thankfully, he settled down after a while and we were able to loosen the cinch and trim his sides and belly. It took about an hour to complete Santiago, the average time it takes us to shear one llama. This year we decided on the style popularly referred to as the lion cut. This cut removes the wool from the barrel area and the tops of the legs to allow circulation to their abdomen and the area under the tail and arm pits. It’s very important to keep the llamas cool and comfortable in our hot, humid Virginia summers.
The next three llamas were amazingly good. Perfect, in fact. They stood perfectly still and even chowed down on some hay during the process. Maybe they are starting to learn that getting that hot, heavy fur coat off is a really good thing.
By the time we finished the 4th llama at 6:00 pm, we were exhausted, sweaty, hairy, and nasty dirty. We decided to call it a day and go out for pizza. A shower never felt so good. Now, just four more to go.