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Sunday, July 11, 2010

How to Shear a Llama: The "Easy" Method!

Let's be honest for a minute here.  Shearing a large animal (250-400 lbs) which has a long, muscular neck, long legs with pointy hooves, and a propensity for spitting large quantities of green goo is never a particularly "easy" task.  This is confounded by the fact that llamas have a very clear sense of their "personal space" and are not particularly fond of having that space invaded without invitation.

Some llamas have been handled since they were young and are more receptive to handling, and are less likely to be upset during shearing.  It would be delightful if all llamas were that way.  Mine are not (despite moments of tolerance!)

I have six llamas:  Kahlua, Dolly, Cabernet, Hazel, Cesar, and Stormy.  As most of my regular readers will know, Stormy is only just 6 months old, so he's kind of half-a-llama.  He's also much more used to being approached by me and given little chin rubs, so he's not difficult to handle.  The rest of them might as well be stampeding elephants when it comes to shearing time.  This was a difficult lesson last year, when I was repeatedly kicked, stepped on, spat upon, shoved, and generally given a good demonstration of the ability of a llama to show its displeasure.

Earlier this year, one of my sheep magazines had a reader letter from a woman asking about the best way for a small-statured woman to shear sheep by herself.  The response came from a woman who shears full time, and she was kind enough to include in her response the description of how she shears llamas and alpacas.  I read it, re-read it, and decided it was entirely possible.  In fact, I could scarcely wait to try her method.

Yesterday was my first try!  And guess what?!  It WORKED!  So, without further ado, I present to you the best method I have learned to date for shearing llamas (unless your llamas are wonderfully obliging about allowing you to shear them).  I hope it might help somebody else out there!

First - the essentials for your llama shearing experience:

1.  Sharp shears!
No really, I mean it, sharp shears make things go faster.  I use the large hand shears for easier areas without a lot of complicated angles (such as the sides of the belly and the back) and then I use the Fiskars shears for the more complicated or detailed areas - legs, neck, head, tail.  I also have the handy Fiskars sharpener which works a treat and is so easy to use.  I bought these from "Quality Llama Products, Inc." The large shears came from Premier here in Iowa.  The Fiskars shears are much easier for me to use and I have less blisters than last year.  They are lightweight too, which is a bonus when you are dealing with multiple llamas.  If you can, splurge on a quality pair of shears.  It's worth it!

2.  Grooming tools!
I use the dog-style rubbery brush for an initial going-over of the fleece before it's sheared.  This seems to remove the majority of surface debris.  These can be purchased at most pet shops or online at pet supply stores.  The other pictured brush is also from Quality Llama Products and it is fabulous.  It's the "rotating tooth rake" and each of the metal teeth rotates in place so that when you pull the brush through the llama's fleece, it doesn't catch on things but it does remove a considerable amount of debris from under the surface.  It doesn't seem to cause problems with tangles and is very easy to use.  This tool was another first for this year and I loved using it.  The llamas weren't upset by it either.

3.  Spit mask!
Again, for me, this was an essential tool in the arsenal!  Last year I received a very voluminous spit-in-the-face from Dolly.  The colour and the smell were unforgettable.  Did I mention the smell?  OMG, it was enough to turn my stomach.  Using this handy item, I have remained slime-free this year.  Worth every penny!  It was very easy to attach to the halter.

So, here's the method to getting your llama to lay down for shearing.  Yes, it may be somewhat uncomfortable for the llama, but you will be finished much faster, and there is far less risk to both you and the llama.  Using sharp tools around an agitated animal can easily result in injury to you or the animal, and that's easily avoided using this method.

1.  Attach a sturdy lead to the harness.  Tie the llama to a sturdy tree at the head end.  Tie low down on the tree trunk because the llama will be laying down and you don't want to stress the neck.

2.  Tie a sturdy loop in the end of a strong rope.  Use a soft rope for the comfort of the animal, and for your hands.  Amuse your llama with some grain or fresh grazing, so that he/she doesn't notice you laying a rope under their belly.  Loop the rope around the belly so that you have a "lasso" around the belly of the llama with the end of the rope going through the loop at the other end.  Gently tighten the rope so that the llama cannot wiggle out of it.  Slowly work the rope loop towards the back end of the animal.  You're aiming to have the hips or upper legs cinched.  Be ready with another tree or sturdy post (or tractor) to tie off onto.

3.  As you move that hip rope backwards on the animal, gently pull on it (don't be close enough to get kicked).  DO THIS ON SOFT GROUND!  NOT CONCRETE!  You do not want to hurt the animal when it lays down.  I did it on the grass in the yard.  As you pull backward, the head lead rope will become taut and the rear rope as well.  The llama will tend to lay down or stumble a little, losing its footing, thus going down.  Once the llama is down, quickly secure the rear rope. I had the rope on a pulley on the front of the tractor, and then around a tree.
Once the llama is laying down, they can kick their legs a bit, so you still need to be careful.  It is helpful to have someone stand on the head lead rope so that they can't wildly swing their neck around. This is a picture of Cabernet once she was part way through shearing.
It is not as bad as it looks.  She was not struggling and did not whine or make a fuss.  A few times she waggled her legs around and I knew she wanted to get up, but it wasn't violent.  She is relatively secure and I was able to shear without causing her injury or visible distress.  Here I am starting on the neck, able to sit beside her without worries of being injured.  Try to choose a shady spot if it's a hot day, for your comfort and for theirs.

4.  What about the other side?!  Yes, you can only shear one side at a time.
Once you've finished as much as you can on one side, let the llama stand for a while.  Let them regain their footing and feel secure.  Maybe 10 minutes or so.  Then, repeat the procedure, and if you can, through the judicious use of sloped ground or a helper, encourage them to "fall" onto the other side.  This can take a few tries.  Be patient.  This is also an ideal time to do any hoof trimming that might be necessary.  Remember to take your time.

5.  How do they get up?  Well, once you've finished, loosen the rear rope first.  My experience was that they were not really terribly aware of the loosening of that rope.  Still, be cautious and avoid getting kicked.  Once the rear rope is loose, release the head rope from whatever tree/post you have it attached onto, and encourage the animal to rise.  My experience was that the rear loop kind of slipped down the legs and they just stepped out of it.

Here is Kahlua before shearing...
..."I'm not sure I like the looks of this..."
...and this is Kahlua on his way back to the pasture.  Funny how much smaller he looks!

A kiss for my well-behaved boy!


This is Cabernet pre-shearing...
...and post-shearing.  I call this the "lumpy-bumpy" cut, and I assure you that all the llamas really want this style of cut.  It's all the rage in the llama fashion circles.  Don't let your llama get heatstroke because you are afraid to shear it.  Give them a lumpy-bumpy cut, and they'll be cool and comfortable!  (As you can see, there's a reason I never became a hair stylist!)

Overall, I had a much easier time this year with the shearing experience.  So far, I've completed two llamas - Kahlua (my herd sire) and Cabernet.  I have a lot of beautiful fleece from them both.  Kahlua is a dark chocolate brown with milk chocolate highlights...
while Cabernet is a more grey-brown with fawn highlights.
I am really pleased with the whole experience.  The worst part was the mosquito bites that I received while shearing.  I think you can see that both Kahlua and I were pretty happy after our shearing experience.  I hope this might help someone else get to that same point!  By the way, tie-dyed pants are optional, but they may have helped hypnotize the llamas!

26 comments:

Terri said...

What a great post! I love the spit mask.

Millie said...

I am impressed. The only time I tried to shear my llama, he bit me on the breast. Now he is just hot. Hmmm. If you want to practice on a fat cranky llama in exchange for tons of white wool, we might be able to work something out!

Nancy K. said...

What an excellent tutorial, Claire! I'd say that you're getting pretty darned good at shearing your llamas.

Your new method may be much easier but I have to admit: I'm glad that I don't have any llamas!

;-)

Nancy ~ who is traumatized when the SHEEP get sheared...

IsobelleGoLightly said...

My lady is very glad that she didn't succumb to getting a herd guardian llama! hee hee! That's a lot of work but I like how careful and considerate you are of the llama's safety and well being and your own too! Good job Claire! Are llama kisses as good as goat kisses? I doubt it!

Flartus said...

I'm glad you've found a good solution to your traumatic shearing issues! Though I have to say I'm glad you didn't just start with that picture of Cabernet all stretched out, surrounded by her own fleece. Yikes!

I just realized I was "shearing" this weekend, too. Used the Furminator on Rosie, and she too was surrounded by a lake of hair...I keep thinking her fur would make wonderful soft fiber. Shall I send you my next harvest? :)

DebH said...

yikes...you do an excellent job!! I think I better stick with goats...these old knees are creeky enough. You definitely get your workout there! Excellent post!

Mom L said...

Claire, you've really impressed me once again!

Nancy

Mare said...

You are amazing!

Cynthia said...

You go Claire. I have done llamas standing and do not recommend it after having watched a professional llama shearer do it with them laying down. The llamas hated both methods equally but I honestly think the down method was so much kinder (and faster) for them and frankly....I don't think the pro could have done any better job than you did! Good for you!

Spinners End said...

Claire-

What a timely post! We will be shearing our three llamas this weekend and are going to try your method! I only wish I could order that lovely comb by then....

:) Sherry

polly's path said...

A spit mask?? I love it!!!
I love the new do's, and especially the devious look on Kahlua's face. Looks like he was maybe preparing to lay some heavy spit on you, but you were a step ahead of him with the mask...

Texan said...

wow I am impressed. That looks like a big job! I can only imagine how hard that would be to do if the Llama was able to move around...

I am thinking that spit mask was worth every penny of what ever it cost! ROFL

lfiander said...

Do you think that llamas know how ridiculous they look when they have been sheared? I realize that this is an animal which is quite delighted with itself generally. But at the farm that I take my son to visit on weekends sometimes, the llamas, since they were sheared, seem to have been spending more time than usual standing behind feed bins and antique tractors.

Spinners End said...

Claire,

This SO worked! I posted a blog about it linking folks to YOUR blog at www.spinnersendfarm.blogspot.com

Thanks for the advice...it worked a treat! :) My husband was so thrilled...

Sherry

Erica said...

Claire,
Thank you for your post! I had a llama, rather new to the family (long story) who needs to be shorn this spring. I'm excited to try your method. Gertie will not be pleased I'm sure, but I konw she'll be feeling so much better afterwards.

Erica said...

Claire,
Thank you for your post. I'm looking forward to trying this method this spring on our llama Gertie. She's not the most tame creature...a work in progress I prefer to think. I love the photos of your creatures!

Claire the Shepherdess said...

Thanks for your comment Erica - I hope Gertie will understand that it's a bit of a short-term hassle but she'll be much more comfortable with her fleece off in the summer! I just got back my processed llama fleece from the mill and it's like a lovely soft cloud. Can't wait to spin it!

Maria said...

Hi great work, I recently got some llamas and do not look forward to the shearing process,where can you buy spitmasks?

Claire the Shepherdess said...

Hi Maria,
I got my llama spit mask here:
https://www.llamaproducts.com/index.php?page=ProductList&cat=2.6

They are also here:
http://www.llamathings.com/html/othernecess.html

If you just do a google search on "llama spit mask" you will find several vendors. They seem to be around $11 each. A very worthwhile investment if you ask me!

Homestead Wool & Gift Farm said...

This is a great post- thank you for sharing your shearing process with us! I have 8 llamas and an alpaca, two of which behave very well, the others, not so much! Will be keeping your blog close by!

KenLeek said...

Thanks for sharing your knowledge and experiences. I volunteer at a rescue and we just got a bunch of llamas in and they need to be sheared. I'll let you know how it goes!

KenLeek said...

Thanks for sharing your knowledge and experiences. I volunteer at a rescue and we just got a bunch of llamas in and they need to be sheared. I'll let you know how it goes!

alina said...

First of all, thank you! We'll be trying this out in May. Wondering if the fiskars sharpener works for both kinds of shears.
Alina

Claire the Shepherdess said...

Hi Alina,
No, the Fiskars sharpener only works on the narrow blades of the Fiskars shears. The openings fix those blades exactly - the sharpener was designed for it. The hand shears have MUCH wider, flatter blades and would need to be sharpened in a different way. I'd take them to a professional knife/scissor sharpener.
Claire

Tyger Schonholzer said...

This may be well and good but what do you do with a llama that isn't halter broken? Step one just says 'tie the llama to a tree.' My llama cannot be tied to a tree. So what now?

Claire the Shepherdess said...

Hi Tyger - sorry I missed your comment until now. I'm not sure what to suggest. My llamas weren't exactly halter broken either - I left the halters on all the time. The only ones that were halter broken were the ones born on my farm. Usually we used cattle panels to create a smaller area in the pasture, herded the llamas into that area, and then had to catch them, which was the hardest part. Once the lead was attached to the halter, they were more or less OK, if a bit cranky sometimes. Using a bucket of grain sometimes helped with the catching process. I hope if you have caught your llama by now, you left the halter on for next time!