Curious sight in the shed as spit balls fly by

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Alpacas wait to be shorn.
Camera IconAlpacas wait to be shorn. Credit: Countryman

A quick swerve to the left and I narrowly avoid a flying ball of green, sticky, and incredibly smelly alpaca spit.

A screeching noise fills the air — and then a jovial shout telling me we’ve picked a “grumpy male” to kick off my first time watching alpaca shearing in a Swan Valley shed on a December morning.

Ethan Gellatly has been shearing alpacas for more than 10 years, but it is still difficult to tell how each one is going to react when it is being tied down.

I ready myself for the next spit to be hurled as five men lower a white alpaca on to what looks like a soft gymnastics mat, where its legs are then placed in loops.

It looks ... bizarre, and alpaca shearing is certainly not for the faint hearted.

But it doesn’t hurt the animal — and it’s necessary to keep it well and not overgrown.

At just 18, Ethan has been shearing alpacas nearly full time for the past two years after first picking up a handpiece at the remarkable age of six.

It’s a job that has taken him around the world and allowed him — as an essential worker — to spend three months in the US shearing alpacas this year.

Alpaca shearers are hard to find and there is plenty of work.

Ethan travelled from New York State to North Carolina between March and June, shearing between 30 to 100 alpacas at each farm — a pretty great experience.

Alpacas are sheared on their side with a loop of soft rope around each leg to hold them in a stable position, so the shearer can easily reach the wool.

On this day, it’s a three-to-five man job to lay each alpaca down and to hold its legs to get it ready.

Ethan is shearing, and his mate Brendan Evans is on woolhandling duties.

Alpaca shearer Ethan Gellatly shears an alpaca while woolhandler Brendan Evans waits for the wool.
Camera IconAlpaca shearer Ethan Gellatly shears an alpaca while woolhandler Brendan Evans waits for the wool. Credit: Countryman

We’re at Swan Valley Alpaca Stud, and it will take about four hours to shear 36 alpacas here.

Most of the alpacas are calm — and thankfully, after the first one, there is little spit to be seen.

But I still weave around the shed taking pictures and move out of the way as quickly as possible ... just in case another wad is lobbed my way.

It’s certainly one of the more interesting and somewhat smelly Saturday mornings I’ve had.

While alpacas are one of the most-loved farm animals, they are livestock animals and are specifically raised for their fibre.

Alpaca wool is hypoallergenic, warm, soft, water repellent, fire resistant, lanolin-free and eco-friendly ... and in hot demand.

The final destination of the wool is determined by the micron count of the fleece.

Alpacas don’t shed and need to be sheared once a year for their own wellbeing — especially in the Australian summer.

Shearing an alpaca is an interesting sight and as the day goes on I watch more of these curious animals as they are turned and laid onto a mat. Thankfully, most are calm.

“The reason we do tie them is because they have lightning quick reflexes, and so this protects the shearer and the alpaca,” Ethan said.

“The handpiece is sharp and if they kick in the wrong spot it can be detrimental.

“For someone that hasn’t done it before, it can be difficult getting them into that position.

“But when you have been doing it as long as I have, it is easy.”

Growing demand for alpaca shearing means Ethan is always flat tack at this time of year.

What a way to make a living!

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