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How often do alpacas get shorn? And everything else you need to know about shearing an alpaca

Updated: Oct 23, 2023


Why are alpacas shorn?

Alpacas need to be shorn once every year to help them regulate their body temperature in warmer months and to prevent health issues such as fly strike, sores and entanglement, which can result from fleece that is left to grow unmanaged. The fibre is cut using specialist shearing clippers. The skin is left intact, much like when we have a haircut, so only the hair is removed and the fibre is simply a by-product of this annual husbandry task.





Can a sheep shearer shear an alpaca?

It is not recommended for a sheep shearer to shear alpacas, unless they have received training specific to camelids. Alpacas are big, strong animals and far too large to be held in the same way as sheep when being shorn, so require a very different method of restraint to sheep, so using the services of a specific alpaca shearer will ensure they are looked after correctly.



Does shearing hurt the alpaca?

Provided shearing is done by an experienced alpaca shearer who handles the alpacas with respect, shearing is not harmful to the alpaca. Most alpacas are relieved to have the fleece removed and enjoy a good rub on the floor afterwards - after all, all the dirt and twigs etc that they pick up in their fleece over the year must be itchy and uncomfortable!



How are alpacas shorn?

Alpacas are gently laid, one at a time, on a mat or specialist shearing table. The shearer secures a loop of soft rope around each of the two back feet which goes through a wooden spacer, and the other side is secured to a post. Then, the shearer does the same for the front feet, which are secured to another post. This allows the alpaca to be gently stretched out into a yoga-like pose. A weighted beanbag is placed over the alpaca’s neck, near its head. This preparation ensures that the alpaca cannot thrash around and keeps the shearer safe from kicks and the alpaca safe from being cut by the blades due to moving suddenly. Once the alpaca has been gently restrained, the shearer uses specialist shearing clippers to carefully trim the fleece. Have plenty of bags ready to store the fleece and enough hands on deck to help the shearer get the alpacas into position and collect the fleece and clear the table or mat so the shearer can work. Some fleece may be left around the tail and the eyes to protect against insects and the weather. The alpaca is then released and quickly goes back to grazing!





How long does it take to shear an alpacas?

The process of shearing each alpaca usually takes 10 to 20 minutes.



What time of year are alpacas shorn?

Alpacas are shorn once a year in late springtime, around May and June, in the UK. This is usually timed to take place before birthing and mating occurs to significantly reduce the risk of flystrike, infection entering the vaginal canal and strangulation of the male’s penis during mating (yes, this can happen when alpacas are in full fleece!). Plan ahead when is best for your alpacas to be shorn so they don't experience a temperature drop that could lead to hypothermia or wait too long to be shorn and risk heat stroke.



How much does it cost to shear an alpaca?

The cost of shearing an alpaca varies between £15-£55 per alpaca, depending upon your herd size (the more alpacas you have, the cheaper it is per head).



When do I book an alpaca shearer?

Book your alpaca shearer way in advance as they get booked up fast - i.e book them in for the following year when they're carrying out the current year's shearing! We use John Davies, who covers Wales in the UK, and can be contacted 07779553427.


What do alpacas look like after being shorn?

Alpacas look much skinnier after shearing and don't be surprised if there is a bit of commotion afterwards, as your alpacas may have to re-learn who is who with their new haircuts! Here is a comparison of the same alpaca pre and post shearing.

What happens to the fleece after shearing?

What happens to the alpaca fleece after shearing will depend entirely on your preference! The fleece has two main sections. The saddle, which is from the back and sides of the alpaca, is the prime quality fleece; whereas the rest of the fleece is referred to as “seconds” or "thirds". Some keepers spin the prime quality fibre themselves into wool, which can then be used to knit products such as shawls, socks and scarves or it can be sent to mills for someone else to carry out this process for you. The coarser parts of the fleece can be used for things such as insulating outdoor piping in the garden, as a slug deterrent in the allotment or as bird nesting material, hung out in the garden for the birds to take in Spring.


If you would like to process the fleece, you will need to let the shearer know, as they will need shear the fleece in a particular order; remove the blanket (1sts) first, followed by the shoulder and thigh (2nds) and then legs (3rds) last. Whereas if you're not processing the fleece, it doesn't need to come off in any particular order.



My shearer has offered to vaccinate my alpacas - should I let them do this?

Do not let your shearer vaccinate for you, as this is an illegal practice and the viability of the medications cannot be guranteed. In fact, it is recommended to not vaccinate at all on the day of shearing, as the stress caused by shearing can cause immuno-suppression, which can reduce the efficiency of the medication.



My shearer has offered to castrate my alpaca - should I let them do this?

Under no circumstances should a shearer castrate an alpaca, as this is a veterinary only procedure. If your shearer has offered to carry out castration of your alpacas, we would recommend finding a different shearer, as we would question their welfare practices and handling ethos in general.



Disclaimer: Fostings Alpacas are not a veterinarian body. Always consult your vet when deciding the best husbandry care for your alpacas.


 

Learn how to look after alpacas


This 95 page E-Guide is packed full of information for new and prospective alpaca keepers, covering Alpaca 101, Requirements, Diet & Pasture Management, Husbandry Tasks, Disease & Parasites and an Introduction to Breeding & Cria Care. Download upon purchase so you can dive straight in! For the full contents list and to get your copy, click the image below.



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