'They can be a handful': Alpacas get free hair cuts at Langley farm

CBC News
By: Jon Hernandez, CBC News
Photo: By Jon Hernandez/CBC
Photo Caption: A pair of alpacas eagerly await their turn on the shear machine.

Jose is just a year and a half old — and has been waiting patiently all morning to get his first haircut.

But this is no ordinary barbershop.

Jose is one of dozens of alpacas lined up to get a much-needed trim from master shearer Dave Carlson at the Kensington Prairie Farm in Langley, B.C.

The annual spring event invites local farmers to bring in their alpacas for a free shear in six minutes or less.

"These alpacas need to be sheared once a year," said Carlson. "They grow about 10 centimetres of fibre [annually]."

Carlson was recruited from his headquarters in Fort MacLeod, Alta., to headline the annual event, where he puts his shearing skills to the test. In just eight hours, he's tasked with shearing 80 alpacas whose fur will be used to produce yarn and fleece sweaters.

Of course, the master shearer is well equipped.

He uses a machine he built to help shear each alpaca. Each farm animal is strapped down to a table that lifts and gently rotates the alpaca while he shaves off the valuable fur — and there's a whole team by his side to make sure the animals remain calm.

"[The alpacas] can be a handful. But the hardest thing for me — I've got a crew of five people and I got to know where everybody is."

Annual shear

Carlson can shear up to 10 alpacas an hour. Before he had the machine, a shear could take as long as 20 to 30 minutes.

According to Catherine Simpson, farm owner and event organizer, the mass shear is expected to generate up to 700 pounds.

"Our big stud males ... will sheer up to 12 pounds of fleece," she said. "They're quite extraordinary."

Many of the alpacas being trimmed were born and bred at the Kensington Prairie Farm. Simpson utilizes the sheared fleece to produce clothing that's sold at the farm.

She says proceeds from the event go to Quechua Benefit, a charity that offers healthcare and education to highland Peru — the same part of the world where the animals originated.

"It's the land of the alpaca."

Read the original and view the photos here.