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Friday, May 20, 2011

Shearing Alpacas and The Best Laid Plans


We had a great plan on Tuesday.  We had extra hands coming to help us shear, brand new equipment, and a sedative for our big boy to ease handling during this stressful procedure.

Shearing was to begin around 6:45pm.  Around 3:00pm, everything started going wrong.

The vet's office, which I had confirmed the previous day would supply one dose of a sedative for our big guy, hadn't yet filled the order because the vet had not left the order for the staff when he left that morning, and they told me he probably wouldn't be back until after business hours - too late to be of use.

My daughter called to back out of coming over to help, because she had an invitation to go out to dinner. 

And the other set of extra hands I had arranged was not responding to my e-mails to confirm his arrival.

Panic was starting to set in.  There was no way Papa Bear and I would be able to shear just by ourselves. It takes three people minimum - five is even better. 

It looked like the evening of shearing was going to have to be cancelled.

Then things started looking up again.  The vet's office called that the order had been filled.  My daughter changed her plans (again) and said she would come.  And I got confirmation from my extra set of hands that he was still coming.


So PB and I got the boys into a catch pen and haltered up, and I held Honeywiese while PB gave him the injection. 

I went back into the house to grab some supplies and when I looked out the kitchen windows I noticed PB on the ground clutching his knee.  I figured he had toppled over while setting up the winch on the 4-wheeler, which we would be using as an anchor to tie one set of leg ropes to (one of the pasture posts being the other tie-out anchor). 

I grabbed my supply tote and headed back outside.  PB was still on the ground obviously in pain.  He explained that he had been in a crouch and had started to fall backwards, so he jumped up to catch himself and threw his knee out of alignment.  He was unable to straighten it and pop it back into place. 

My extra hands arrived, and we had a hobbled hubby and a drugged alpaca in the catch pen. 

I figured PB's knee would pop back into place eventually and we would all be merrily on our way (like it had the last time it went out).  So I asked him to direct us as we set up the leg ropes and tarp, and I led Honeywiese over to the newly arranged shearing station.

If you've ever seen a sheep being sheared, you probably have a picture in your head of how this process works.  Forget that image.

Shearing alpacas is nothing like shearing sheep.  A sheep, with its relatively short legs and neck, can be plopped on its behind where it will sit rather meekly throughout the entire procedure.  Even if it were possible to park an alpaca on its butt, its long limbs and neck would make it impossible to shear this way.  Not that it would sit there meekly as you tried, either.

Alpacas get tied out - front legs one direction and back legs the opposite.  If you're fortunate enough to have a tilting shearing table, the animal is led up next to the table, which has a clam-shell like clamp with a pad on it that is closed on the alpaca, then the table is tilted up with the animal clamped onto it.  The legs are tied out then the clamp/pad is lifted off and the shearing can begin at a comfortable hip-level.

If you're not fortunate to have one of these tables (which run well over a grand), you have to shear on the ground.  PB and I had never shorn on the ground before. We had both assisted shearers in the past, many times over the past four years actually, mostly holding animals during the procedure and watching.  PB got to shear 8 animals last year and I sheared one this year.  So, a lot of assisting but not much actual hands-on shearing time.

No problem - PB is really good at things like this and I was certain he'd remember the drill as soon as he got his shears into the fleece.

Except for the bum knee.  We were all set up to go and had lowered Honeywiese to the ground, but PB was still in extreme pain.  If we were going to get him sheared, I would have to do it.  I, who have ever only shorn one animal before.  Yikes.

I started and the first few blows went fine.  Then the shears started tugging at the fleece instead of gliding through it.  There was something wrong with the tension on the shears.  We fiddled around a bit, had to take the comb and cutter off, pull fiber out from behind the comb, readjust the tension, and tried again.  A little better, but still tugging and not gliding.

We struggled through the rest of that side (adjusting tension many times) then rolled Honeywiese over to his other side.  Our friend Bobby of Autumn Moon Alpaca Ranch offered to shear the other side.  This was great, as my arm was getting pretty fatigued and I was getting really frustrated by the shears still not working correctly.

Somehow despite the shears still not cutting properly, we got all the fleece off of poor Honeywiese, whom I was so thankful was handling the procedure just as sweet as could be. 

The sun was setting when we finished, and we decided not to shear the other two.

Later that night after our help all went home, I took PB in to the Emergency Room at the closest hospital. They sent him home around midnight with a knee immobilizer and an appointment for an MRI on Wednesday.

Today he had a follow-up visit with an Orthopedic surgeon.  PB is scheduled for knee surgery next Tuesday, to repair a tear in his left meniscus in his right knee. They said the injury existed for awhile, along with a torn ACL.  Depending on what they find in the joint, he'll either walk out of the hospital on Tues., or have to be off his leg completely for six weeks.

I'm not sure when we'll get to shear again.  We may have some very fuzzy lawnmowers for awhile yet.

Life in the farm-lane doesn't always go as planned.  Have you had an unpredictable obstacle to overcome lately?


Jean said...

there is only a couple days between a bad hair cut and a good one - - - but OMG!! Murphy's Law in spades. clogged clippers have been problem on lots of animals and I know all about bum knees but that all leaves you wondering what else?!!
keep us posted on your PB/my Big K.
Love Mom J

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