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For the Shear Pleasure

This article was the 27th in a series of columns under the heading Observations from the Pasture in the GALA Newsletter. It was originally published in August 2004.

I enjoy shearing our llamas! I do not claim to be an expert shearer but I do have some observations that might be helpful to the llama owner who is thinking of shearing or who has just started to shear his or her llamas.

My first observation is that your first shearing will be the most difficult one … for both you and the llama. After I sheared my first llama Jeanne told me that I should never shear again … poor Maracaibo looked quite ragged. On the positive side, time is on your side and even the most botched job will soon disappear as the fiber grows back.

My second observation is that a llama’s first shearing is the llama’s most fearful shearing. This can be ameliorated somewhat by shearing your more experienced and tranquil llamas first, letting the newbies observe.

As each year passes I find that more and more of our llamas will stand still without halter and lead for their shearing. Some of them will even position themselves next to my shearing area to await their turn. I believe that they have learned that they will be cooler and that I will not harm them.

Observe, observe, observe! Observe shearing demos whenever you can. You may also wish to bring in a professional shearer for the first year or two. Observe the shearer in action. If you use a professional shearer for more than one year, choose someone else as the shearer each year. This will give you an opportunity to see different techniques.

I use hand shears for a number of reasons, the most important of which is that it allows me to have a more personal relationship with the llama being sheared than would be possible with electric shears. Unless you are talented at sharpening and adjusting shears you should take them to a professional sharpener … and, if you acquired your shears from someone other than a professional sharpener, you should have them sharpened and adjusted before you use them for the first time. It will make a big difference in your life! You should also lightly hone your shears after you complete a shearing. I have three sets of shears and have them sharpened and adjusted each fall.

Editor's note, March 2010: We now have a number of hand shears of varying sizes. When I first started shearing I used a fairly short set of shears. As I have gained experience I have moved to longer shears. My selection of shears tends to vary with the quality of the fiber on the llama being sheared and on my intended use of the fiber. If the fiber quality is low I will shear without concern for 2nd cuts and either donate the fiber to the birds for nests or throw it into my compost pile. We also keep a pair of Fiskars scissors handy. They create less stress to the llama and they work quite well on the very fine fiber of a cria.

Some llamas are “two-sided”. They may be perfectly happy to be shorn on one side, but will strenuously object about being shorn on the other side. One technique to address (or partially address) this problem is to lean over the llama from the good side to shear the difficult side. This works well if you are tall or the llama is small … neither is the case at our farm … but I find that I can accomplish quite a bit by leaning over the recalcitrant llama. Another technique, particularly if you are tense, is to release the llama and wait for another day. If you are worried about what people will think about the weird looking llama, you can always say that the llama will be used in a talk about shearing – one side is “before”, the other for “after”.

When I shear I talk to the llama in quiet tones. I enjoy the time together. It gives me a chance to muse upon things other than the issues of the day. By hand shearing I also have the opportunity to closely examine the llama.

I “style” the llama more by whim than by design, i.e., I do not know the ultimate configuration of the shearing until I am well into the shearing. However, before I leave a mane on a llama I will put my hand under the neck fiber to make sure that the fiber is neither matted nor heavy. If the area under the neck fiber feels warm or moist a “cria cut” is in order. Several years ago I was concerned about one of our maturing males. He was very low in the pecking order and his self-esteem seemed low. He looked very macho and I started out giving him a barrel cut to maintain that appearance. When I noticed that he was hot and moist under the neck hair I gave him a cria cut. As soon as I returned him to the pasture his demeanor changed. He decided that he should be the alpha male and immediately embarked on that course. I can only conclude that the fiber had been weighing him down physically and emotionally.  

Editor's note, March 2010: Click on the photographs of the llamas in the masthead of this web page to view several configurations.