'learn to shear' series

What does it take to shear your own alpacas?

you've decided to take the plunge and start shearing your own alpacas. Welcome to the shearing club! This article is going to help you take the right steps to ensure that you're setting yourself up for success. If you're still on the fence about the whole shearing thing, I recommend you check out my article on the pros and cons to see if this work is really right for you.
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Starting on a good footing: Shearing school

The number one piece of advice I give all potential shearers when deciding to embark on learning this skill is to get proper lessons. There is just no substitute for learning from a qualified pro. Youtube videos and articles like the ones found on this site can be very helpful, but having an expert standing over you, literally guiding your hand, showing you all the pitfalls, can save you hours of frustration and perhaps avoid seriously hurting your animals.

There are many shearing classes available out there. There are even a few shearers that will offer one-on-one training for the right price. I don't have experience with all of the classes and instructors that currently offer lessons, but I do have some opinions.

First, I would avoid taking a class from another farmer/shearer. Someone who shears maybe 100-200 animals a year on their own farm. They may be great, but until you do this full-time and professionally, you're just not going to learn the most efficient way of doing things, and those bad habits are going to be passed onto you.

Seek the best, most qualified professionals in the industry. Watch their videos. If they are not shearing an animals in under 6-7 minutes, then they are not operating at peak efficiency. This will translate into bad habits for you that could potentially add way more than a few minutes an animal to your shearing routine. That time matters. It's harder on you, harder on the equipment, and harder on the animal. An extra few minutes on the floor, bent over, with clippers in hand, can really wear you out. It's when you're tired that mistakes happen, and mistakes in shearing usually involve blood. That additional time on the ground is also stressful and tiring for the animal. A heavily pregnant female will be fine getting sheared for less than 10 minutes, but 20-30 minutes is entering the danger zone for stress. Keep that in mind when looking for the person to train you.

Finally, make sure that you are getting a good bang for your buck. I'd recommend a two day class (although those seem to be less common nowadays). Ask how many alpacas you'll actually be shearing. If it's only one, that might not be enough to prepare you for the real deal solo. Ask how many others will be participating. If there are 15+ people in the class, you're not going to be getting that much one-on-one time with the instructor. It's all about getting the most practical experience you can.

There is just no substitute for learning from a qualified pro.
The right tools for the job:

I can't emphasize this enough. Don't skimp on your equipment! I understand the temptation. You're browsing around the internet looking at shearing supplies, and Ebay has Chinese shearing machines for ⅓ the price of the European/USA stuff. You think, "well, I'm only shearing a few a year, this should be fine." Don't do it! It's a false economy. You already have so much to learn and so many ways to fail, you do not want to be fiddling with a finicky, cheap, poorly designed shearing machine. The same goes for blades. Cheap blades dull quicker, and they don't resharpen as well. When making that initial investment, make sure that you are buying quality tools.

In the United States, I buy most of my equipment from light livestock. They have been in the business for a long time, and they know their stuff. They have great customer service. In Europe, I buy from Horner Shearing. They have also been around for a long time, and have a lot of their own branded stuff that is good quality. That being said, there are other suppliers out there, and also a lot of used stuff available, so don't feel locked into my recommendation.

If you want specific advice on which equipment to buy, check out my article on comparing shearing machines here, and which blades to use here.

Teaching these Quechua ladies the importance of quality equipment! We sheared mostly by hand, but I made sure to have some quality tools on the job as well.
A reliable and experienced shearing assistant is vital to making your shearing day go smooth.
Having a good partner is a key to your to success

This is an often overlooked, but incredibly important factor in your shearing journey. Many people getting into shearing their own consider it a one man job. It ain't. A reliable and experienced shearing assistant is vital to making your shearing day go smooth. The last thing you want when you're just figuring out how to shear, or trying to re-learn your skills after a whole year off, is to also be worrying about instructing your assistant on their role.

I recommend finding someone who will reliably be around year after year, and bringing them to the shearing class with you. Have them learn how to shear as well, take turns holding and moving the animal while the other shears. Figure out your individual roles for how to put the animal into the restraints safely, and learn how to communicate your needs while shearing. It will make your day so much easier and set you up for success to have an assistant that is as invested as you are in the shearing process.

Having someone that knows how and when to move the animal makes a massive difference in reducing your work load.
Confidence will see you through

You take your shearing class, the instructor hands you a perfectly tensioned shearing machine, the lessons are fresh in your mind, and you breeze through your first couple of alpacas in the shearing course. You go home ready to take on your herd.

But when you get set up a few weeks later and get that first animal laid out in front of you. Suddenly, it feels a whole lot harder. How does that pattern go again? Why is my machine heating up? Why did my blades get so dull? Oh shit! I just cut her…

There is a lot that can rock your confidence when you first start shearing. You just gotta push through. Take the hits, remember that no one is good at it when they first start out, and keep going. It gets easier. Having the self-confidence to push through the difficulties is very important when learning any new trade, and shearing is no different. Remember why you wanted to take on the challenge in the first place. You got this!!!

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