VIDEO: Reporter takes on one of Huntingdonshire’s more unique spring tasks by shearing an alpaca

Reporter Lauren Nash and shearer Ben Wheeler removing an alpaca's fleece.

Reporter Lauren Nash and shearer Ben Wheeler removing an alpaca's fleece. - Credit: Archant

It’s one of the more unusual aspects of spring in Huntingdonshire... shearing an 800-strong herd of alpacas.

Some of the alpacas.

Some of the alpacas. - Credit: Archant

With warmer weather around the corner, it was time for the South American animals at Houghton Hall Alpacas to have a haircut last week.

All the yearlings, pregnant females and stud males had their locks chopped, with only this year’s show team keeping their fleeces with the hope of impressing judges in the ring.

Their haircut also brought about a once-over to make sure their health is in tip-top condition. It was like a trip to the dentist, doctor and beauty parlour all in one with the alpacas receiving vaccinations, having their teeth and toe nails trimmed, fighting teeth removed from the younger animals and being wormed.

The alpacas - the farm keeps both the Suri and Huacaya breed - were then let into a shed in batches ready to be sheared. A sample of fleece is taken first to test the quality before the animal is sheared. Its fleece is then cleaned and sorted separately, according to quality.

One alpaca fleece can go on to make about five jumpers. Its fleece is known for its thermal properties and its soft and luxurious feel. It also has no lanolin – wax or grease – which makes it hypoallergenic.

The price of the fleece, depending on quality, can be about £12 a kilo. Pure alpaca fleece is often used by top Italian designers, but a more affordable option for the textile industry is to use a mix of alpaca fleece and other fibres, such as silk and cashmere. Other uses include everything from upholstery to insulation for homes, with the farm exporting a lot of alpaca fleece to Norway for clothing. People also use alpacas as pets, to keep grass short, or to scare away foxes.

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Owners Mick and Liz George have been breeding alpacas since 2001, scooping awards such as ‘triple supreme’ at the British Alpaca Society show last year.

Here’s reporter Lauren Nash’s take on the experience:

I will admit I have always been somewhat of a ‘townie’ – I’m more acquainted with hustle and bustle than life on a farm.

I approached the task of shearing an alpaca with a CV that lacked any prior experience – petting lambs as a child and feeding carrots to donkeys is about all I could list under ‘working with animals’.

As we drove into the farm, I was surprised by how large the alapacas were and became acutely aware that attempting to shear one was going to be trickier than I imagined.

After a tour, it was time for me to watch and learn as shearer Ben Wheeler whizzed through shearing two alpacas in about four or five minutes each.

The alpacas in the waiting pen looked on inquisitively as the others were laid on a table one by one and had their fleeces removed.

Some of them made a whining noise and I was concerned about upsetting them when it came to my turn, but mine soon settled down and seemed to not mind too much.

The shearing equipment resembled a pair of high-powered hair clippers, and I had to grip tightly and shear as close to the surface of the skin as I could, removing the fleece as I went.

It was harder than it looked – if I was a hairdresser I think my customer would be asking for a refund – but with the help of Mr Wheeler, before long my alpaca was ready to join her pals and show off her new hairdo.