Fireworks are in a few minutes here, so I'll keep this brief...I just wanted to post the answer to what I did yesterday, involving these two photos:
I helped shear alpacas!!!
I found an ad on Craigslist last week...a farmer and her husband needed a third person to help with shearing because the husband had injured his hand. I replied to the ad and expressed my interest in learning more about anything to do with farming...and Linda and Gordon were happy to have me come, even though I had zero experience.
It was quite an educational day...Linda and Gordon were gracious enough to slow way down and do lots of explaining as we worked. We only got three alpacas (and one lamb) shorn, but they still claimed that it was helpful having me there. :P
The process they use is very interesting - you tip the table on its side near a wall or tree, then lead the alpaca alongside the table. The alpaca is secured by the head and by a belly band, then you roll the table back down to the horizontal and secure the legs with slipknots. In this way, the animal is very securely fastened so that it can't injure itself or the people shearing it - and it's much less stressful than the normal method of forcing the alpaca to the ground and shearing it there. See how relaxed this boy looks?
You still do have to make sure the head in particular is secure at all times, so the alpaca doesn't hurt himself or the shearers by thrashing around. And it's good to have a third person for when the rear legs are being shorn - one of my jobs was to hang onto the rear leg with both hands to dampen the force should the alpaca kick, so that he wouldn't kick back into the blades of the clippers. That also pulls the skin tight, reducing the chance of the clippers getting caught in a wrinkle in the skin.
I also moved the front leg into different positions to help "open up" the shoulder, etc., for the clippers. Linda did all the actual shearing - alpaca fleece is too valuable to let a newbie risk damaging it!! - but she let me smooth out the alpacas after the fleece was removed so I could get a feel for using the clippers (they're heavy!).
In addition, I helped hold the head while Gordon clipped and ground the teeth (yep - their teeth need maintenance once or twice a year!!), and I even "drenched" one alpaca with a natural garlic dewormer, using a special syringe that gets the liquid into their cheek pouch or over the back of the tongue. (I was grateful that the alpaca did not drool any garlic onto my person - what a smell!)
Here's what a freshly-shorn (and slightly tangled) alpaca looks like:
Linda and Gordon also have a couple sheep (which I didn't get photos of), two cows, four horses, and a couple livestock guardian dogs (so cool!!!).
A Jersey bull:
A Paint and a Classic Morgan:
An Arabian stallion! Believe it or not, he's in his late thirties:
One of the livestock guardian dogs (he kept half an eye on me the whole time I was there):
All in all, it was a fun and VERY educational day, and I'd love to go back to help with more shearing (they have 30-40 alpacas!!). I'm not sure if it'll happen, since it's a 2.5 hour drive, but at least I'd probably be a more efficient helper on the second round. :P
Anyway...Happy Fourth of July!! Maybe your holiday be a joyous one, and may it be free from garlic-scented alpaca slobber!!