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Saint Mary-of-the-Woods

May 9, 2011

Shearing Time

Woods’ alpacas get spring haircuts; fleece recycled

TERRE HAUTE — You’ve probably never seen a haircut quite like this.

Alpacas, remarkably sweet-looking members of the camel family, were getting their annual shearing last week at the White Violet Center for Eco Justice at St. Mary-of-the-Woods.

The Sisters of Providence, who operate the White Violet Center, own a little more than 60 alpacas, which look a little like llamas. The center hired a professional to shear most of the animals, but about 20 will be sheared over the next several days by trained center staff.

“Pretty soon, the weather will get hot” so spring is a great time to shear the alpacas, said Tracy Wilson, alpaca herd manager at the White Violet Center. Adult alpacas can provide about six or eight pounds of fleece each year. After being sheared, the animals were allowed to return to their pasture north of the St. Mary-of-the-Woods College campus.

Grown alpacas can weigh as much as 200 pounds but most at the alpaca ranch at the White Violet Center weigh between 120 and 170. To shear an alpaca, several people help gently place the animal up against a tabletop that is turned into a vertical position.

Once secured against the table, the top is rotated so that the animal is lying on its side on the table’s now-horizontal surface.

It takes between five and seven people to shear a grown alpaca, said Robyn Morton, associate director of the White Violet Center.

While shearing is taking place, “it’s also a great time to check their health,” Wilson noted.

During shearing, the alpaca’s legs are secured with a rope in such a way that it cannot kick. Someone also holds the animal’s head, which is at the end of a surprisingly long neck. The shearing of an adult alpaca takes a professional about 15 minutes.

The soft fleece or “fiber” taken from an alpaca is great for making hats, scarves, gloves and other clothing. The slightly lower-grade fleece can be used to make “felted” hats or for pillow stuffing, said Sister Maureen Freeman, White Violet Center director.

Freeman and others were working Friday to separate the higher quality fleece from the lower quality. Like the shearing taking place in a nearby barn, pulling and separating the fleece has been going on all day for the past several days, Freeman said.

Alpacas are indigenous to South America. They stand about 36 inches tall where the long neck and spine come together. The animals are easy to work with and tend to be very gentle.

Alpaca fleece comes in a variety of colors from white to black. Gold fleece is especially in demand right now, Wilson said.

Yarn, clothing and other items made from alpaca fleece at the White Violet Center come with a label that shows the name of the alpaca whose fleece was used. That’s the way they do things at the White Violet Center.

“It’s part of our philosophy to show the inter-connection of all creation,” Freeman said.

Arthur Foulkes can be reached at (812) 231-4232 or arthur.foulkes@tribstar.com.

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