Shearing time for Lyndeborough alpacas

LYNDEBOROUGH – Alpacas, like their larger cousins the llamas, are native to the Andes Mountains in South America where they require their thick fleece for warmth.

Here, that soft thick hair is prized as yarn for equally soft warm sweaters.

Each spring, the alpacas are shorn, and Sunday was that day at Purgatory Falls Alpaca Farm in Lyndeborough. Owners Tim and Dana Welch invite a group of friends and neighbors to help with the job and have a party. It is a long, hot dusty day that ends with a barbecue.

“We have a crew of about 15,” Tim Welch said.

That includes four to six experienced handlers who catch and hold the animals while their coats are cleared of dust with a blow drier and their teeth are checked. They then take the alpacas to a mat and tether their feet, as much to protect the shearers as the animals and to make it easier on both.

Others help with the fleece, clean the area after each animal is sheared, and assist where needed.

The alpacas are shorn by Malcom Cooper of Peterborough, a champion shearer when he did sheep. He said he now prefers alpacas. While they are tethered, toenails are clipped, micro chips placed in new animals, and they are generally inspected.

After being shorn, the alpacas are thoroughly checked by a veterinarian, given annual shots and any other medication needed, and then released back into the pasture. They promptly roll around the dirt.

Each animal has a complete computer file listing age, registration numbers, medications, offspring, and any other pertinent information.

An alpaca weighs between 125 and 225 pounds, Tim Welch said. “And ours are fat.”

It takes Cooper about six minutes to remove the fleece using specialized electric clippers. The fleece on the back and sides – the prime fleece – are removed in one roll. That fleece is marked with a name and each is stored separately until it can be cleaned, graded, and information placed in the animal’s file.

The lesser quality, B grade, is used to make rug wool, Dana Welch said.

Fleece from the lower legs and any that is contaminated by urine or discolored, is discarded.

The cleaned fleeces are sent to Vermont Fiber Mill, she said, where they are processed into different types of yarn. “It takes about three months to get it back.”

Dana dyes the wool and is always about a year behind. She said she sells “about 80 percent of the fleece.”

Alpacas come in a wide variety of colors, from white through shades of brown and gray to black. The Welches have all colors.

They currently have 61 alpacas, two llamas, and Cornflake, the guanaco rescued last winter and who is recovering steadily. She was not shorn.

The Farm has been accepting rescues and has several new ones from New Jersey and New York. However, Dana said they have reached their capacity and can no longer take any.

Tim and Dana moved to Lyndeborough in 2005 and opened their farm the following year. Since both have regular jobs elsewhere, “This is a labor of love,” Dana said. “And there are people who love the fiber.”

And she’s fond of her animals, which makes this labor of love easier.

“I have to be able to walk out there and call each one by name.”

Hannah Earle is the farm manager.