A huge debt of gratitude to my coworker who is not only a brilliant and compassionate clinician but also an alpaca-owning, lattice pie crust-making Renaissance woman who invited us along to shearing day. Sophie and I left the house in the pre-dawn darkness and drove to West Virginia to spend a day that we are unlikely to ever forget. Since our alpaca handling skills are minimal, our job was sweeping up and bagging the "garbage fleece." We started with the cream colored and worked our way to the darker colored alpacas. The shearer was a brawny man whose bulk belied the grace with which he wielded the clippers, fleece falling away in plush sheets. The alpacas were firmly yet gently restrained, and though some protested mightily spitting and vocalizing, not one was nicked or injured. The whole procedure took about 6 minutes, and they stumbled to their feet looking like oversized Q-tips.
The shearer said he can typically shear ~80 alpacas a day. Some of the fleeces were carefully laid out onto shower curtains--destined for "fleece judging." As we moved into the fawn alpacas, the fleeces ranged from a light café au lait to milk chocolate and begged to be touched. Alpaca is one of the warmest and softest fibers--my coworker felts some of the fleece into boot liners. You can take your fleece to a wool mill where they can process it into yarn for you. Some of that "garbage" fleece did wind up in a bag that I carried home with plans for making thrummed mittens.
Sophie enjoyed correcting me each time I said, "llama," eating the potluck lunch, and bonding with the crias (baby alpacas). She lobbied unsuccessfully to take one home in the truck bed. Alpacas are social animals, and we would have had to bring home at least two.
Our drive included a round trip on White's Ferry--in operation since the 1700s, and a must-see if you live in the D.C. area. Covered with dust and smelling distinctly of the barnyard, we were greeted joyously by Pom Diggity and Makoa on our arrival home. My week's work will involve some research into cleaning my bag of fleece so my mittens won't incite similar excitement.