There are two main methods of shearing – while the animal is standing, or laying the animal on its side and tying it in such a manner that it is unable to stand until released. The first is probably less stressful for the animal, but few alpacas are quiet and tame enough to reliably stand still – and movement on the part of the animal creates risk of injury from the shearing blades. “Alpaca Place” alpacas are both well-handled and quiet , but we prefer not to take the risk of them moving unexpectedly when using sharp blades.
The safest method is to restrain them in a prone position. This can be done on the ground, or there are shearing tables commercially available. A shearing table is a great aid in getting the alpaca into a prone position, but once it is lying on its side, the method of restraining the animal is much the same. Using a shearing table also means you don’t have to bend over so far if you have a bad back, and can have other uses too – such as using for caesarean sections, or for castrating young males. However, a shearing table is expensive, and most people manage very well without one – and many NZ shearing contractors have a table of their own.
If you elect to shear your alpaca on the ground, you will need a groundcover – either a tarpaulin (which must be pinned to the ground) or a large piece of plywood or similar. This prevents ground contamination of your fleece. Whatever ground cover you choose, it needs to be large enough not only for a prone alpaca, but large enough that when the alpaca is rolled over, it (the alpaca) will remain on the ground cover. Alpacas are naturally cautious of what they stand on, so some months before you are due to shear, you should start to accustom your alpaca to walking on the groundcover without fear. We found the easiest way was to yard our alpacas and then place the ground cover in the gateway, so that in order to gain their freedom they had to walk over the tarp. We in no way attempted to force them, and eventually even the most nervous plucked up enough courage to rush across. Once they accepted walking on the tarp was safe, we practised leading them across it so they would be familiar with this idea also.
We have seen two methods of “dropping” an alpaca to the ground. One involves wrestling the animal to the ground. Not only does this require someone of some size and strength, as well as considerable knack, to achieve this, unless it can be done really quickly it involves quite a bit of stress for the animal – just as you would feel if someone pulled and pushed you onto the ground.
The other method is the traditional South American way – a technique known as chukkering. This system is a lot less stressful on the alpaca but you still need to move smartly. Hint: Have all your restraint ropes in place and ready to use before starting. An alpaca that will lead to where you want to shear it is a big advantage, otherwise you will need to manhandle it into position.
After you have your alpaca on the ground, you must quickly move to “stretch” your alpaca into the prone position required for shearing. We suggest you see this demonstrated before attempting this for yourself! Move too slowly, and your alpaca will be back on its feet, but you don’t want to rush to the degree that you are sloppy, rough, or panic your alpaca.