Five area alpaca farms gathered at Sweet Clover Alpaca in Conway Tuesday for annual spring shearing.
The farm, located just off of State Highway 286, was a busy place Tuesday morning as area alpaca owners unloaded the fluffy animals and corralled them for their turn with the four-man team of professional shearers with Top Knot Shearing out of Missouri.
Lying out over the yard on lined tablecloths at Debbie Shannon’s Sweet Clover Alpaca farm was this year’s harvest.
Sixteen of her own alpacas, five males and 11 females, had their winter coats cut Tuesday.
The fleece pieces on display in colors from tan, grey, brown, white, black and spotted were the “first cuts” of the shearing process.
The first cut comes from the animal’s torso, from the “withers,” where the neck meets the spine, to the rear and is the prime fiber.
Second and third cuts, which were bagged nearby, were from the animals’ leg, neck and stomach areas.
Second and third cuts may be used for felting, rugs or boot inserts.
Local fiber artist Cyndi Minister, owner of The Twisted Purl, a yarn company in Conway that sells hand-spun and hand-dyed yarn and other fiber creations, was watching the process at the farm Tuesday.
Minister said she has attended shearing day in the past, and last year she got to know the alpacas and picked out the fleeces she wanted to spin into yarn for her customers.
“I like to get the whole story, from farm to finished product,” she said, adding that she got two young alpacas’ first fleeces last year.
They were Caspian and Lady, and Minister had her eyes on the two again, and on a large crop of silvery fur coming off of another alpaca from Sweet Clover’s herd.
Minister said when she tells her customers she has been at Sweet Clover Alpaca and that she will soon have locally sourced hand-spun alpaca, the product sells out before she is done spinning.
She said she bought seven or eight different colors last year, several hundred dollars worth of fur that she was able to spin into soft, natural yarn. Minister said alpaca fur is easy to work with and is her preferred fiber.
“Wool captures all that barnyard stuff. You have to clean it, but alpaca is clean. The stuff falls out easily when you rinse it,” she said.
The fur Shannon harvests that is not bought locally by vendors like The Twisted Purl will become part of the New England Alpaca Fiber Pool, which processes similar alpaca furs from small and large farms into larger lots for the fiber market.
Some of what Minister takes home will be spun and given back to Shannon.
Shannon’s Sweet Clover Alpaca farm has been in operation since July of 2008. She says hers is the largest farm in central Arkansas.
Land she purchased for the farm was originally intended for horses, but she said she took her sister’s suggestion and investigated alpacas as a crop of animals she could invest in and justify their expense by the yearly harvest of fur they produce.
Alpacas are first cousins of llamas, Shannon explained.
Llamas, which are typically about 100 pounds heavier than alpaca, stand much taller and were bred as beasts of burden. Llamas were bred to carry packs, Shannon explained, while alpacas were bred and domesticated for their luxurious fiber. Alpaca herds may contain a llama, she said, which typically serves as the herd’s guard.
“A llama will stomp on a dog, and dogs are the No. 1 predator of alpacas,” said Shannon.
Alpacas are also bred for their very lean red meat, Shannon said, but added that none of her alpacas would end up on someone’s table.
(Staff writer Courtney Spradlin can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 505-1236, or on Twitter @Courtneyism. To comment on this and other stories in the Log Cabin, log on to www.thecabin.net. Send us your news at www.thecabin.net/submit)