Jen Pietsch
Orcas Island, WA

I love spending time outdoors, gardening, running and raising my fleeced friends!
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Monday, May 19, 2008

postheadericon First Spring Shearing

It was bound to happen -- and here it is -- my first guest post as the "Farmer-at-Heart" husband.

Earlier this month our capable herd manager, Janet Franklin, made plans for the annual shearing with Jason Black from San Juan Island. It was unseasonably cold and wet this year, and many farms apparently put off their shearing, but we were fortunate to have a clear, beautiful day for the job.

Jason is a super person to work with, knows his animals well, and was incredibly patient with me: the novice. He is a skilled pro and I was glad it was him holding the shears and not me!

My job was to hold the animals as upright and steady as possible. Generally this was accomplished by wrapping one arm around a neck and twisting an ear to release calming endorphins with the opposite palm above the front shoulders, all along "speaking" to them softly. However, I often found myself resting an animal that wanted to go down on my knee, shoved against the run-in wall, or otherwise in all manner of contortion.

Some shearers/farms prefer to work with animals on their side and tied down. This takes quite a bit longer, but can be safer for jittery animals, and we resorted to this method at least twice. The third person's job is to gather, sort and mark the fleece. Janet and I occasionally traded this job.

Shearing is hard work lasting about twenty minutes per animal including corralling and haltering the next-up, the actual shearing, gathering samples, firsts and seconds, and sweeping up the thirds. In spite of the foul smelling spit and bodily bruises I tended to later in the day, it was undoubtedly one of the more satisfying span of six hours I have spent in a long time. In fact, Jen wanted me to entitle this post "Shear Delight" -- well there you have it, Dear.

Thank you also to my brother and aunt for coming up to help out and take these terrific pictures. Here is their photographic vignette:

Sunday, May 18, 2008

postheadericon Alpacapalooza 2008: Part 4

On Orcas Moon's show day I spent most of the morning attending a series of educational seminars on marketing, disease control, neonatal care and the like. Then -- finally -- it was time to show Manhattan!

Manhattan was registered in the Full-Fleece-Huacaya-Yearling-Female-White division. There were ten other animals in her class. In the adjacent ring, the show was having an agility contest featuring balloons and streamers among other distractions -- from the get-go Manhattan was not calm.

We ended up doing the "walk of shame" from the ring after the first go ‘round. Not the blue ribbon I was hoping for, but the experience was outstanding. I learned about how to calm her down a little too late, but it was a pulse raising experience all the same -- a real thrill I won't soon forget. I was a little upset because she is a really pretty girl with nice fleece and conformation; maybe we'll do better next year when I have bit more experience under my belt.

Brooklyn wouldn't show until Sunday on the final day of the show when I would already be back on the plane to Chicago so Albert kindly offered to show her. Up early to feed and water the girls and break-down the stall set-up; I said a temporary goodbye to my new friends and left for the airport. Sitting in the airport waiting for my flight I received a call from Albert. He was beyond excited for Brooklyn had won a ribbon!!!

Brooky placed fourth in the Full-Fleece-Huacaya-Yearling-Female-Fawn division, where the judge apparently loved her. The only reason she didn't place higher was because of slight crimp variation from shoulder, blanket to hip. Not something we can fix in her per se, but something we can shoot for in her cria.

On the trip home I am not sure who was flying higher -- me or the plane! What a great trip: I learned alot, made new friends, and won a ribbon! And I'll be back for good in only a few short months.

postheadericon Alpacapalooza 2008: Part 3

After a hearty breakfast at the hotel we were off to the barns to check on our animals. Brooklyn and Manhattan had fared nicely overnight, but their new fan wasn't working at all. I contacted the facilities department and they had it fixed in a jiffy.

According to the day's schedule, it looked like I might get a chance to show Manhattan, but more than likely she would have to wait until Saturday. However, Kris and Albert were kind enought to let me get my feet wet by showing their Black Pearl. We took a fifth place ribbon my first time in the ring -- I was so excited!

First Timers Q&A

Before this show, as with most shows, the judges held a question and answer session for new participants. ATTEND THIS! There you will learn:

  • The flow of the show -- How you will be asked to walk into the ring, when to do so, and what to do if your animal doesn't want to!

  • What the judge will be looking for during each inspection period -- Gate, posture, size of reproductive organs, teeth, fleece consistency, and crimp consistency.

  • What to do if your animal doesn't behave -- And there are always those! Believe it or not, this may not be marked against you as long as the judge can view all of the characteristics listed above. If your animal is stressed to such a degree that they pose a danger, however, you may be asked to leave no matter how high the animal's quality.

  • What to do if your animal wins -- It would seem self explanatory, but it is not. If your animal wins first or second in its division, for instance, it will then compete for best in class. This means instead of going to celebrate your win, you must wait to be judged again against others in the class.

The Q&A sessions are also a great time to ask questions of the judges and other participants. What is the best way to steady an animal who doesn't want someone feeling around under their tail? What is the best way to show teeth? Etc....

Practice Makes Perfect

Having now been through the experience, one more bit of advice I can offer is to practice. Practice with yourself, practice with your animal. Halter train. Get them used to being followed by other animals, and leading other animals. Get them used to, or at least tolerant of, being touched in sensitive areas with "pat" exercises.

Friday night was the big dinner in downtown Puyallup. During dinner there was an auction to support the education of a university student specializing in camelids. After dinner we went for a quick check on the animals and exhausted, went to bed.