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Care of Camelids: Shearing Llamas and Alpacas

Shearing Llamas and Alpacas - Masterclip

Loz Dorey |

In recent years, the UK has seen an exotic addition to its verdant landscapes – the rise of llamas and alpacas. These charming South American camelids have captured the hearts of smallholders and farmers alike, thanks to their low maintenance, hardy nature, and minimal environmental impact.

Adapting well to the UK's climate, llamas and alpacas offer a sustainable and eco-friendly alternative to traditional livestock. These animals also provide therapeutic companionship and enhance rural tourism through interaction at farm parks and trekking activities.

WHY DO LLAMAS AND APALCAS NEED SHEARING?

Prized for their fibre, alpaca fleece is highly sought after for its softness and warmth, while llama wool is valued for its durability. Llamas and alpacas require full shearing once a year. This needs to be done, even if their wool is not utilised as they continue to grow their coats and do not naturally shed in the warmer seasons.

Llamas and alpacas, related to wild vicuna and guanaco, are native to the Andes Mountains, living in areas of high altitude with a relatively cool climate and low humidity. Without shearing, they are at risk of heat stress and matting in our warm, humid summers, so clipping their woolly coat plays a crucial part of their welfare.

WHEN IS THE BEST TIME TO SHEAR LLAMAS AND ALPACAS IN THE UK?

The optimal time for shearing is from May to June and as a general rule, must be done before the end of July. Clipping later than this not only risks the flock overheating in summer but also means they may not grow sufficient fleece before the cold winter weather arrives. 

When shearing, it's crucial to ensure the herd retain a good length of fibre to protect them from weather and potential sunburn. Skin protection needs vary according to the llama's skin colour, with lighter-coloured skin requiring more protection from the sun.

 

PREPARING LLAMAS AND ALPACAS FOR SHEARING 

Shearing must only be done be experienced persons and requires an amount of consideration and preparation to ensure the process runs safely and smoothly with the least amount of stress on the animals.

Penning the herd the evening before shearing will ensure the fleece is kept clean and dry overnight. Shearing a wet fleece can cause the shears to get caught in the wool which can be an uncomfortable or painful experience. Llama and alpaca shearing is best done when there are multiple handlers to help restrain the animal and to carefully handle, collect and bag the fleece if it is to be used.

HOW TO RESTRAIN LLAMAS AND ALPACAS FOR SHEARING

Unlike sheep, alpacas are usually sheared lying down. This is either done on a dry, clean ground mat or a specialist shearing table with the front and hind legs tethered. This helps to keep the animal still and the skin taught so that shearing can be safely performed within the shortest time to reduce stress. Llamas are usually haltered and stood to shear, like horses.

There are different types of clips for llamas and alpacas which include the Full or 'Nudie' cut,  where the fleece is clipped from head to toe, reserving the hair only on the head and face. There are also other versions known as Barrel Cut and Lion Cut which removes the hair around the barrel of the body whilst leaving the remaining fleece on the shoulders, chest, neck and legs and may include half of the back legs. These clips provide ventilation and cooling whilst leaving more protection from the elements and flies. The choice of clip should be considered for each individual animal and their needs.  

Trimming the nails with foot rot shears

Shearing is also the perfect time to health check each individual, trim their nails, look at their dentition and apply wound care and fly control treatments (should wounds or flystrike be found under the fleece after removal).  

Once shorn, camelids will have significantly reduced their ability to stay warm, so rugs for each animal or housing may be required in bad weather in the weeks after shearing.

 

Alpaca shearing by @CBS Equine using the cordless HD Roamer shears

THE BEST SHEARS FOR ALPACAS AND LLAMAS

Shearing can be peformed using the same shears designed for shearing sheep. Whilst hand shears are silent to operate, they take a good while to completely remove the fleece and great care and skill to be used. Electrical shears will quickly and effortlessly clip the entire fleece in minutes, allowing for each animal to be returned to the group quickly.  

 

Bow shears for hand shearing an alpaca

Stocking up on clipping essentials such as clipper oil,  blade cooling spray, sharp blades and making sure batteries are well charged for cordless shears, will help to ensure the process goes as smoothly as possible. However, even with the best preparation, accidents can happen so always use an RCD with mains powered shears. Using an RCD ensures a kick from an animal to the shears or accidental treading on the cable will keep everyone safe from an electrical shock.

 

TOP TIP – The Andis 5-in-1 cool care spray not only acts to keep your clipper blades cool and well lubricated whilst shearing, but also acts as a blade cleaner and disinfectant to clean the blades thoroughly after shearing each animal and maintain good hygiene. 

 

BEST SHEARS FOR SMALL HERDS

For small herds, the heavy-duty, mains powered Masterclip Ewe 2000 shears are ideal. They are lightweight, weighing in at just 1kg and can be used with our Masterclip shearing or dagging blades. Other branded shearing blades that have a standard fitting (such as Heiniger blades) are compatible for use with the Ewe 2000 shears too. It is also possible to buy a specialist camelid blade which has a higher bevel to leave a slightly longer clip than sheep shearing blades, for the remaining fleece to offer a little extra protection from the elements as required.

The Ewe 2000 clippers can also be purchased with an additional clipping head which will allow for the clipper to be used with a range of A2 clipper blades for clipping other livestock such as cattle, horses and long coated goats such as Angoras. There’s also the option to use the A2 livestock blade with these shears which is another great blade choice to shear a small number of llamas and alpacas.  

 

The Masterclip Ewe 2000 shears and cordless HD Roamer shears with livestock blade

No access to mains power? No problem! For a fully cordless clipping solution the HD Roamer clipper is a completely cordless, battery powered clipper which can be used with a range of premium A2 clipper blades. For llamas and alpacas, the livestock blade can be used for full shearing, but other blades can be easily changed on the head in minutes to clip other animals including horses, ponies, donkeys, cattle and goats.

The HD Roamer is the perfect choice for smallholders with little or no access to electrical power who have multiple livestock to clip. These clippers come with 2 rechargeable batteries giving up to an hour of clipping time per battery. Extra batteries are readily available from Masterclip should extra clipping time be required. The A2 head on the HD Roamer is also compatible with a range of Lister clipper blades. 

The Masterclip HD Roamer shearing an alpaca by @CBS Equine

BEST SHEARS FOR LARGER HERDS

For a flexible but heavy-duty solution, the Masterclip Outback shears are a completely cordless model that comes with a standard shearing head. Just as with the Ewe 2000 model, the Outback shears are compatible with our own Masterclip dagging of shearing blades and other makes of standard fit shearing blades, offering a wide selection of blade choice. The Outback comes with 2 rechargeable li-ion batteries with a run time of around 2 hours per battery. Need more time? Extra batteries and chargers are readily available.

All Masterclip shears come with our full 2-year warranty backed up with our Leicestershire based customer service centre and workshop for repairs and servicing to see that your shears provide you with many years of use. If you'd like any further information for shears or accessories to suit your herd, please contact us here. 

Sheared by @CBS Equine with the HD Roamer shears and livestock blades.

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