Jeff Green | May 21, 2009
Back to HomeFeature Article - May 21, 2009 Spring Harvest in North FrontenacBy Michael Quigley
Hanne Quigley and Shannon Goltz
Harvest time comes early for Alpaca owners Robert and Hanne Quigley of Silent Valley Alpaca, near Snow Road.
On the Victoria Day weekend, these ranchers, along with a seasoned group of friends and relatives, started shearing their 30 plus alpacas so that the fleeces can be sent to mill. Alpacas must be shorn once a year to remove their very warm fleece and protect them from heat stress.
“We are already noticing some animals are a bit sweaty as we’re removing the fleece. They have very dense fibre and it really holds in the heat,” says owner Hanne Quigley.
Everyone has their job when it comes to shearing,” said Robert Quigley, “four people are required to get the 150 pound alpaca into position on the shearing table: one person each at the animal’s head, front legs, back legs and one person at the belly strap. It’s a dance: ready, wait, okay, go. Everyone has their specific things to watch for and do. I shear one side of the alpaca’s blanket fleece first. The blanket is that part of the alpaca comprising its back, sides and depending on colour consistency and fleece quality, can include part of the thigh and upper front leg. Once the first side is shorn the animal is gently turned, belly under and the second side is completed.”
The fleece stays together and almost seems to roll off as Robert shears across the animal’s sides. Another assistant, known as the sorter will remove the blanket fleece from the table and place it on a specially designed sorting table with a wire mesh top to allow bits of debris to fall through. Others are busy picking out bits of vegetation, sorting out colour variations and separately bagging and labeling each alpaca’s best fleece, which will be sent to the mill to be made into yarn, felt and rovings to be sold on the farm or at some of the various shows, fairs and yarn shops in the area. Some fleece that may not be of yarn quality can be made into batts, which are then made into duvets.
“People ask if we use every part of the animal’s fleece and for the most part we do,” says Hanne who is usually at the sorting end of things, “but we usually end up with a bag of unusable fleece that we take out to the back forty. The birds in North Frontenac have some of the best-dressed nests.”
The Quigleys’ daughter Danielle usually holds the head of the alpaca during the shearing process. “It’s my favourite thing to do,” says the Ph.D. student from Carleton University.
When the newly shorn alpaca is released back into the herd all the other animals gather round to inspect the job and check out the “new member”. Alpacas generally produce about 4-8 pounds of fleece per year and their appearance changes dramatically once they’ve been shorn. They seem to have shed about 100 pounds; their long necks, top knots and puffy tails are even more visible after shearing, and with those big eyes and long lashes, they truly resemble a gentle fictitious character from a child’s book.
Robert and Hanne love to talk about alpacas to visitors interested in breeding stock or companion animals. The barn door is often opened to visitors at Silent Valley Alpaca, and their farm store is open to the public. It’s stocked with socks, hats, duvets and yarns. Raw fleece is often sold to hand spinners and weavers and also goes towards the production of high-end finished products.