Shearing a sure sign of spring

The Sachem
By: Tamara Botting
Photo: By Tamara Botting
 
Photo Caption: Melinda Ramsay, one of the co-owners of Lickety-Spit Fibre Farm, sorts the fleece.

For some people, it’s spotting a robin. For others, it’s the appearance of daffodils and snowdrops.

For Melinda Ramsay and Michele Bain, the sure sign of spring is shearing day.

The pair are neighbours and co-owners of the business Lickety-Spit Fibre Farm.

“This the big day on the farm,” Ramsay said on April 19. “With alpaca shearing, you book a year in advance and make a plan. People know when we are shearing.”

The pair has hired shearer Tom Redpath for a number of years.

A shearer needs to be able to cut the hair close to the animal’s skin to retain as much of the length as possible, but also avoid any nicks.

There were also some friends and family volunteering at the farm that day.

“Everyone has a job, so it moves along quickly,” Bain said.

Ramsay’s job was to do the initial sort on the fleeces.

“Every animal has parts of its fleece that are softer or coarser. There are six grades for alpacas based on the micron, which is the diameter of the fibre,” she explained. “I’m hoping that when we send this to the mill, all of the softest fibres will be together, and all of the coarsest fibres will be together.”

They were also sending samples of some of the individual alpacas' fleece to a lab for testing.

“They will be able to tell us the actual diameters, as opposed to us taking an educated guess. This is helpful when you’re selling a baby (alpaca), you can say if the mom stayed finer for a longer time,” Ramsay said.

There’s no waste of any of the fleece. What isn’t used to make yarn might be made into hot pads or laundry balls, which they sell through their shop, online or when they are out in the community, such as at the Binbrook Farmers’ Market.

The fleece can also be used as mulch in the garden.

“We shear for the economics, but it’s also for their health,” Ramsay said. “In the summer, we don’t want them to overheat. Having their fleece on is like wearing a coat. Alpacas are like dogs; it’s hard for them to thermoregulate. They can get dehydrated easily.”

Shearing also allows them to see if any of the animals have an injury close to the skin that wouldn’t be visible otherwise under the fleece.

There isn’t any automated way to shear an animal; while Redpath uses an electric razor, it’s still just him and the volunteers holding the alpacas down one at a time to remove their fleeces.

“When you think about it, it reflects so much effort. That skein of yarn becomes precious,” Ramsay said.

While many crocheters and knitters use yarn made from synthetic materials because of cost considerations, Ramsay said they are seeing more of a shift toward natural fibres.

“Both sheep and alpaca yarn is exceptionally warm, and they wick away the moisture. Natural fibres breathe, and they are more fire retardant, which is especially important for bedding for children,” she said.

Lickety-Spit Fibre Farm will be returning to the Binbrook Farmers’ Market as a vendor this year. Visit www.licketyspitfibrefarm.ca for more information.

Read the original and view the photo gallery here.