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VIDEO: Shearing day at alpaca farm is 'organized chaos'

GALCHUTT, N.D. -- Low hums rumble across the Ten Seven Acres alpaca farm here on a hot afternoon in early May. Dirk and Jessie Monson's herd of 15 alpacas and one llama, plus another group of nine from a farm in Kindred, are unknowingly awaiting ...

Marty Hofmann of Guthrie, Okla., shears an alpaca with help fom Erik House of Portland, Ore., while Jessie Monson gathers up the wool and Dirk Monson steadies the next animal for shearing in Galchutt, N.D. David Samson / The Forum
Marty Hofmann shears an alpaca with help from Erik House, while Jessie Monson gathers wool and Dirk Monson steadies an animal.

GALCHUTT, N.D. - Low hums rumble across the Ten Seven Acres alpaca farm here on a hot afternoon in early May.

Dirk and Jessie Monson's herd of 15 alpacas and one llama, plus another group of nine from a farm in Kindred, are unknowingly awaiting the arrival of Marty Hofmann and his helpers. They anxiously pace their pen.

As soon as Hofmann, of Guthrie, Okla., arrives, the Monsons and their visitors spring into action. It's shearing day at Ten Seven Acres, an operation Dirk says has gone "from zero to 60"  in its first two years . Last year, when the young couple only had six animals, they took them to another farm. Now they're the hosts. "Next year, we'll have 24," Dirk says. "Everybody brings their animals here for us because we're the big one."

Since it's nice out, Hofmann will shear the animals outside, on two wooden planks to keep the fiber as clean as possible. The babies of the Monson herd are up first. They're led out of a holding area and onto the planks, where volunteers quickly grab and shackle their feet.

Shearing an alpaca is not like shearing a sheep.

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"With a sheep, you put them between your legs, compressing them," Hofmann explains before starting the noisy shears. "With alpacas or llamas, we use a rope system, on a pulley system. You stretch them out, making their skin tight. With a sheep, you're actually making their skin wrinkly."

The babies, or "cria," seem to more readily accept their fate than the adults, who don't like to be touched. Some try to twist, spit at anyone who gets in the way, and cry out with a sound unlike anything else you've heard.

The process goes surprisingly quickly. Hofmann, who travels the country with his family-run business, Integrity Shearing, 10 weeks out of the year, only needs five or six minutes per animal. Since learning the trade from his dad, Paul, he's done more than 30,000 sheep and alpacas.

He has it down to a science.

The scene, however, is chaotic, but it's "organized chaos," Jessie says. "Being organized is really important, because it goes so fast," she says.

Everyone pitches in to ensure the safety of the people and animals involved, and the cleanliness of the fiber, to be turned later into yarn.

Marty Hofmann shears an alpaca with help from Erik House, while Jessie Monson gathers wool and Dirk Monson steadies an animal.

Hofmann skillfully moves his shears around each alpaca's middle first, pushing off a thick "blanket" of fiber in one fell swoop. Then he makes his way around the head, long neck and legs, not missing a spot. That's called the "seconds."

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Each animal's yield depends on its size and genetics, but most blankets produce 4 to 5 pounds. Jessie plans to process the fiber at Dakota Fiber Mill in Kindred, where she works part time. You can buy the finished material online or at the Red River Market in downtown Fargo this summer.

At the end of the day, a total of 46 animals were sporting a new look. Dirk says the alpacas act "like a dog after a bath," running around and shaking off. Others are a little more unsure of it.

"They're like any other creature - they walk a little more gingerly, they're a little confused," he says, "but a lot of them, the first thing they do, the ones that are older, they'll go and find the biggest pile of dirt or mud and just roll in it."

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