Aloinea the alpaca appeared calm as she was guided toward a shearing table in the centre of a large white barn at Kensington Prairie Farm, before being fastened in with belts around her belly and feet.
Tufts of fluffy white fleece drifted to the ground as professional shearers Dave and Connie Carlson clipped the animal using an electric razor and an old-fashioned pair of scissors.
Aloinea was one of 70 alpacas to be hand shorn by the husband and wife team at Kensington Prairie Farm’s annual shearing event on Friday (April 15). The south Langley farm was the last stop for the Carlsons, who are from Fort Macleod, Alta., on a tour that saw them shear close to 1,500 alpacas, 1,500 llamas and 13,000 sheep.
For 17 years, Kensington Prairie Farm has held the event on the third Friday in April, but this is the first time they have welcomed the public to watch.
“You don’t often get to see this,” said Kensington Prairie Farm owner Catherine Simpson.
“It’s really heavy-duty work when you are handling the animals.”
Using the hand-shearing process — which does not hurt the animal — the team averaged about 10 alpacas per hour. And with each animal shedding between five and 10 pounds of fleece, up to 700 pounds of luxury fibre was collected.
The process begins in early March when Simpson takes a side sample of her alpacas and sends the fleece to Australia for testing.
“It comes back with a variety of test results — microns (wool diameter), crimp-style, standard deviation, all kinds,” Simpson said.
“There’s about 12 of them that come back and then I look at them and from there I assess what I am going to do with the animals.”
Some will be used as show fleeces, while others are culled to meat, depending on their age. As the alpacas grow older, their fleece becomes coarser, making it no longer usable.
The fleece that is sheared will then be spun into high quality yarn to be used for blankets and clothing that are sold right on the farm in the Simpsons’ boutique and through their online shop.
And when they’re not caring for their alpaca heard, Simpson and her crew also busy with custom hay production and raising cattle.
“It’s pretty intense here,” Simpson admitted.
“But it’s seasonal — farming is seasonal.”
At the end of the day, Simpson says she does it all for the love of her animals.
“The alpacas are just great, they are such characters,” she said.
“I have favourites. I have a foundation stock girl — an original imported into Canada — and she’s at least 25 years old and her name is Lucy. She’s an old grey girl and she’s pretty thin right now, and that’s pretty old for an alpaca.”
Krause Berry Farms was also at the shearing event, providing refreshments by donation to the Quechua Benefit, a charity in Peru that delivers medical care, warm clothing, shelter, food and services to children.
For more on Kensington Prairie Farm and their alpacas, visit their shop at 1736 248 St. or online at kpfarm.com.