Shearing the llamas

Every spring when the weather turns warm, we call our llama shearer to come and do his magic with our guards. We have only four llamas, and none of them has particularly nice fiber, so the point of shearing them is not so much to harvest what they produce, but instead to make them comfortable for the Iowa summer’s heat. I usually call early in April, and then depending on the weather, Nick (our llama guy) comes to get our guards ready for the new season.

Because our llamas are not pack animals who spend their days with humans for company, ours are fairly independent. I don’t think they could think of anything worse than having to spend the day being handled by people, so I simply round them up and then let Nick do the rest. He has been doing this since he was a young teen in 4H, so he has a lot of experience. He is also much younger than either Rick or me, and obviously stronger. All in all, he is definitely more capable of doing all that llamas need to have done at least once each year.

I rounded up three of our guards last night and set them up in a horse stall in the Storage Barn. The fourth llama, Howie, was still needed among the lambs. I was willing to leave the rams and adult ewes (with no lambs) without a guard overnight, but not the lambs. They are still too small and defenseless, so Howie was moved up to the Storage Barn this morning, shortly before Nick arrived.

With all four llamas in the horse stall, Nick haltered each and tied them to the board fence just outside the barn. Before the more hands-on activities, each llama got a vaccination for the year, then a shot of dewormer for meningeal worms (which can burrow through their brains, making Swiss cheese out of their gray matter, and which they generally get from deer droppings in the pastures) and an oral dose of dewormer for other possible internal parasites. Historically, Summer (our only female), has been our “worst” llama, kicking and spitting dewormer and green stomach fluids near and far. As she has settled in and aged a bit, Summer has begun to mellow, and for the past two years, Orbit has taken the crown for nastiest llama when Nick arrives. This year was basically a repeat of Orbit’s nasty behavior of last year.

After all the meds, Nick moved onto giving each a pedicure. None of the llamas love this nearly as much as most humans do. They all kick and squirm and try to lie down on Nick while the human audience oohs and aahs about how much that last kick probably hurt and who will win in the end. Honestly, I’ve come to know that no matter how bad the llama is, to always bet on Nick. He always gets the job done.

Howie and Summer wait their turn and watch Nick finish shearing Martin

Howie and Summer wait their turn and watch Nick finish shearing Martin

Finally, when all the nails had been trimmed, Nick moved onto shearing each llama in turn, beginning with Martin. Since we did a full body shear on every one of our llamas last year, this year, they required only what is called a barrel cut: shearing the fiber off from just forward of the “armpits” back to just above the front of the back legs. This opens up those areas in which llamas release heat while still leaving a heavy coat on their legs and necks for protection against predators. Martin was not a happy llama during shearing, but he was at least polite. In fact, this was also true of Howie and Summer – but Orbit was another matter.

Honestly, I suspect my neighbors may have considered the idea that someone was trying to kill our llamas while Orbit was being sheared. Not only did he fight and kick, but he let out these screams that we normally only hear when our llamas are attacking some poor wandering fox or raccoon. In only minutes, Nick finished the shearing and Orbit was once again a happy boy, barrel sheared and ready for release back into the adult ewes. My fence and barn were covered in llama stomach contents, since he had done more than his fair share of spitting – but rain will wash this clean, as we have learned in past years.

Summer, all sheared and ready for warm weather - her sheared fiber at her feet

Summer, all sheared and ready for warm weather – her sheared fiber at her feet

So, after a couple of hours time, all four llamas are now ready for summer – and all of the people who participated in the event are happy to have at least 365 days to recover before we have to do this again. I’ve included photos of Martin and Summer in their new cuts; neither Howie or Orbit wanted to take the time out to pose for you – they just wanted to go back out with the sheep! Go figure!

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