‘MIND ME NECK’: Click go the shears on an alpaca’s fleece

Susanna Freymark

Shearing an alpaca is like shearing a sheep. Surely.

Watching shearer James Dixon at Big Sky Alpaca farm proved otherwise.

The alpaca is not held vertical between the shearer’s legs like a sheep. Instead, James holds the alpaca tightly and with the help of roustabout Hannah Orrock, they flip the alpaca onto the ground and secure all four legs into separate harnesses.

Then there is the long neck of the alpaca that could easily injure if the alpaca thrashes around and this is secured with two weights.

And the noise – oh my!

Each of the 15 alpacas make a different noise during shearing. Their protests sounded like babies crying ‑ there was grunting, groaning, squeaking and spitting.

Alpaca farmer Michelle Malt loves her alpacas. They all have names and the ones born at Big Sky at Bean Creek, near Old Bonalbo all have names starting with ‘s’.

Yet Michelle is more likely to call them ‘darling’ as they are ushered in the yard for shearing.

The fleece from her ‘darlings’ is sent to a fleece barn in Victoria where it is exported overseas for processing.

Helping her pack the fleeces are her husband Paul Malt who runs 75 Angus and Brangus cattle at the farm and mother-in-law Sandra Malt.

The three of them are busy keeping up with James. The fleeces are bagged and named by the time the next fleece from a shrieking alpaca is laid on the wire table.

James has travelled from Wollongong to shear the alpacas at Big Sky.

“My dad was a vet and had alpacas after my mum saw them at the Royal Show,” James said.

It takes him seven minutes to shear an alpaca.

He prefers them to sheep because “they think more.”

While the alpacas are tied up, James clips their nails.

When the makeover is complete and the shorn alpaca is set free, it trots into the yard past the rest of the herd who look on with curiosity.

Michelle bought her first alpaca ten years ago from a woman in Goulburn, Victoria who was blind.

The ear tags were in braille, Paul said.

Michelle has been president of the alpaca regional committee and when she was on the board of the Australian Alpaca Association she visited Peru for the Alpaca Fiesta.

Life as an alpaca farmer has its highs and lows.

Halfway through the shearing a baby alpaca, called a cria, is born.

Yet when a cria is born early and dies, it’s tough, Michelle said.

A wild dog attack killed one of the babies.

Sandra said she was tearing around the paddock in a nightie trying to fend off the dogs.

Michelle has a fleece scarf knitted from her own alpacas.

It is clear she loves what she does.

As another fleece is thrown in the air at the shearing shed, one voice can be heard above the cry of the alpaca being restrained.

It’s Michelle’s.

“Hooley-dooley,” she shouts.

AT BIG SKY: Shearer James Dixon, farmer Paul Malt, Sandra Malt, alpaca farmer Michelle Malt and roustabout Hannah Orrock. Photos: Susanna Freymark

WATCH VIDEO: A cria is born – if you don’t know what a cria is, take a look

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