After this, my second annual llama shearing, I have come to the realization that shearing a llama is a lot like peeling an orange. It’s much easier if you can coax the hair off in one big layer than it is to pick away at little bits. The internet is full of advice, although not so much for camelids. Prior to my first shearing, I surfed around and read a few tips, but it became blatantly obvious that the information out there is for people with snazzy tools like $400 electric clippers and tilting shearing tables. Bah! I have a $23 pair of hand shears and a lead rope. The internet is full of opinions about “the right way to do this” and “correct way to do that”, too. Well, I’m quickly learning that with livestock, “the right way” is whatever gets the job done with the least amount of struggle. Here then, for the uninitiated and the even more inexperienced than I, is my take on how to peel a llama.
Step #1. Catch the Llama
Catching a llama is like catching a fart… it lets you get close enough to smell it and then poof, when you reach out to grab it, it’s gone. Once you get your arm around a llama’s neck it will usually submit, but up to that point if you’re going to chase the animal down you’d better be one hell of a sprinter. Some people have nicely thought out corrals they can drive their llama into in order to catch it. I am not one of those. Our pastures are not big, but they are square, and there is little hope of cornering anything unless the horse and the goats pitch in. In order to catch a llama then, I must resort to trickery. Sometimes it’s as simple as enticing them with a bucket of grain but other times elaborate tree costumes, hypnotism and booze are the only things that work. (The booze should not be brought into play until the point when you realize there’s no way in hell you’re catching that damn llama. At that point you put the shears away and go have a drink.)
Step #2. Restrain the Llama
Llamas do not like being fussed over by humans. While they may be willing to tolerate our annoyances, they have no intention of making things easy. The better restrained your llama is when you shear it, the more likely it is that you’ll actually cut off the fleece and avoid lopping an ear, a tail,or your own finger. Fortunately for me, my llamas only dance for a minute or two before settling down and putting up with the task at hand. If your llama won’t stay still you may need to get out the booze again. This time, for the llama.
Step #3. Make sure your shears are sharp!
Fact: There is a LOT of wool on a llama. Other Fact: There are a lot of things in that wool that will take you by surprise – straw, beetles, woodchips, that garden rake that went missing last fall. If your shears aren’t sharp, peeling your llama is going to be more like chopping down a tree with a pair of nail clippers. Save yourself the aggravation.
Step #4. Put on some nice tight gloves
I don’t care who thinks those shears are designed to be ergonomically correct, you WILL get blisters. Shear two llamas and you’ll get blisters under those blisters, no way around it. If you need to be all He-Man and do the job without gloves that’s fine, go ahead, but I guarantee you’ll be crying about your raw fingers for weeks to come.
Step #5. Start cutting
Although llama shears look like they’d make a great killing device in a horror movie, they’re actually pretty safe. If you’ve ever tried to give a llama a subcutaneous injection you’ll know that llama skin is tighter than a pair of 80s jeans. As long as you lay the blades lengthwise against the llama’s body while you cut there is almost no chance that you’ll pinch some skin between them. I start my cut along the spine, beginning at the tail and snipping up towards the neck. This opens up the rug of matted fleece and allows you to work down either side of the body. Continue horizontal cuts in the same manner, maintaining an intact sheet of fleece as you slice it away from the llama. When you get down near the legs separate the fleece from the body and then trim up your hack job to make it look as unridiculous as possible. Do the same thing on the other side and then trim the legs, neck and tail to look somewhat balanced.
Step #6. Assess your work
Stand back and take a good hard look at your llama. Try not to laugh out loud, you don’t want to hurt the llama’s feelings. Don’t panic when you realize how little flesh and bones actually exist under the 3 foot thick wall of wool you’ve just removed. A sheared llama looks silly, even if you DID do a pretty decent job. Be sure to pick up the fleece, pasture the llama, and put away your shears BEFORE proceeding to Step #7.
Step #7. Bathe
You will now have llama fleece in your eyes, your nose, your armpits, and every other sweaty crease you can think of. Every pore in your skin will be clogged. You will reek. Popular culture likes to debate the existence of a creature known as Sasquatch. In actual fact, that contentious beast is the result of someone sighting a person who had just sheared a llama. Remove your clothing BEFORE you enter the house, and then wearing only the unknit wool that clings to your stinky body, run for the shower and don’t come out again until it’s gone (the wool, not your body). Although you may have to remove a layer of your own skin to truly feel clean.
Happy days! Your llama is now far less wooly and much more comfortable in the sweltering summer sun. Take the fleece and find a starving art student who might be willing to trade spinning services for wool. Now it’s time to get out that booze again and celebrate – you can probably wait another year before you do it all over again.