A Friendship, A Harvest

Lots of layers to farming June 6, 2019

Tuesday was Alpaca Shearing Day 2019–it’s an “unwrap!”

Shearing day brings relief. By the time it gets here the animals are hot. We hold our breath with each passing hot day when the weather bumps up above 80 degrees. How many more days until shearing? Do we need to get a sprinkler out?

This year we lucked out, cool weather in May made a much more comfortable climate for the animals. But it is always a gamble, could have been a hot May too.

Every year brings together a different group, an eclectic bunch of people interested in what shearing day is about and they want to somehow be a part and support the day. We warn them and tell them that it is messy, it’s not pretty. You witness the best and the worst of the animals and their people all in one fell swoop–but that’s farming, it’s the full gambit.

The shearing day constant for me though, other than the animals, is my friend Kim. The alpacas brought us together 15 years ago. Ironically we met at a farm on shearing day, 2004, at Alpaca’s of Maple Lane.

It wasn’t until an alpaca show in Springfield, MA the following March (3 weeks after I had our son Jacob) that we became glued together, in all of our alpaca adventures, for better or worse.

We share an alma mater, although we did not attend during the same years. We share a love of the same music… we’ve had some fun road trips with John Denver and Neil Diamond haven’t we Kim? We also have shared break-ups, divorces, moves, new jobs, loss of friends, loss of pets–all during these 15 years.

But through it all our friendship has always seemed to revolve around these strange, beautifully fibered animals. Yes, alpacas have cost me a TON of money, and the angst of throwing out a business plan that definitely did not pan out (lesson #553 for me). But what I gained in my friendship with Kim has been more than worth the money I ever lost.  She is priceless.

What has worked for us is that we have a similar outlook on the care of farm animals–always remembering that they are farm animals. Many in the alpaca industry did not subscribe to this, spending exorbitant amounts of money to keep the less thrifty alive, and then they become financial drains… It’s fine if you are made of money, but Kim and I are not.  We come from the practical side, a husbandry side, a cross section of different farm business and practices.

We always say to the animals, or rather to ourselves to remind when we are feeling guilty about the lack of time spent with our camelids  “some days are diamonds, some are dust.”

In the beginning, Kim and I sent animals back and forth with each other for breeding purposes–we created some pretty genetically fine animals with our breeding choices. Must have been our genetics class at Cornell that honed our acumen.  😉

Shearing day is no exception, Kim and I stick together. Back when my herd was up to 23 animals and she had just shy of that, we started helping each other with the yearly fiber harvest. We combined efforts in work force, food production to feed the crew, and of course our positive can-do attitudes.

One of our earliest shearing days was at her farm 3 days before I had Sam. Here I come, very pregnant, ready to help and do my usual, wrangle alpacas down on the shearing mats–needless to say no one let me move from behind the desk where I was relinquished to recording weights and drawing up shots… it about killed me. Not my nature to sit back and watch others.

Kim and I have sheared on rainy days and sunny days, in the heat and cold. We’ve sheared on concrete floors with no mats, and even dirt surfaces. It ain’t pretty but we get it done! The people that we hired to shear, our friends and family to help have been less than impressed with the conditions over the years–but we have gotten much better, folks!  Come back!

Each year gets easier, less stressful. Maybe we have learned to weed out those who tend to ramp up the anxiety of the day rather than make it carefree and easy. Maybe we are getting better at streamlining our process too. This year it just felt like a well-oiled machine.

I am now down to 4 alpacas: The Marquis of Easton, Avery, Coco and Eliza Doolittle. And me, the one who declared just a few months ago that I was done breeding, now seems to have one on the way–due any day we believe. It’s amazing what shearing day reveals once you get off all that fiber. Coco is carrying some alpaca’s alpaca. I am not sure who the sire is, but I don’t really care.  I am not in that place of breeding anymore.   We shall see… maybe I am just a little excited to have a new baby alpaca running around amongst the herd. 🙂

Me and my friend Kim, we got through another one and raked in a fine crop of fiber… that will probably sit in bags for another year, in her barn, until we are forced to get rid of or sell it to make room for the 2020 crop.

Oh well, it’s what we do.

All in all, Shearing Day 2019 was the best so far and I wanted to share it with you.  It was an absolutely beautiful morning–one that I will remember for a very long time.   The warm sunshine streamed into the barn as we sheared, and there was plenty of blue sky and green pasture for our naked alpacas to run through for the rest of the day. It was just so peaceful there, on the barn floor, as I collected the fiber when it came off of the animals.

And after all was said and done I couldn’t help but stand back Tuesday and just soak it in; I love the land, I love the animals, I love this life.

And I love my friend Kim, who was brought to me on a shearing day all those year ago, and stays with me because we found out that we shared even more.

Thank you my friend..