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Friday, May 6, 2016

Alpaca shearing event brings out family and friends

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Already sheared, white, gray and fawn-colored alpacas keep the remaining alpacas and Dusty the llama company as they awair their shearing at the Rock'n D Ranch. [Photo by Kristin Nama]
It is alpaca shearing time again at the Rock'n D Ranch near Pierce City, and family and friends turned out to help Kelly and Rusty Deman shear about 50 alpacas plus their pet/guard llama, Dusty.

The Demans and their two children have been in the alpaca business for about four years. Previous residents of Las Vegas, Nev, the Demans currently share about 100 acres west of Pierce City with about 50 alpacas, a llama, two goats and three dogs.
Kelly and Rusty learned alpaca shearing by volunteering to help shear at other farms. This is the second year they have done the actual shearing at home, Kelly said. "We are shearers-in-training," she added.

About 15 people came to help the Demans with their shearing, including four from Chicago and the Fiber Folks of southwest Missouri, a local fiber guild.

"It is a shearing party," Kelly said.

The Fiber Folks came to help, because Kelly is a member. The visitors from Chicago recently bought alpacas from the Demans and came to help in the annual shearing.

About 25 animals were sheared on Saturday with all the males done first, then the females and babies. The rest of the animals, including four from a client in Sarcoxie, were to be sheared on Sunday.

The clients' four alpacas would be sheared first thing on Sunday, Kelly said, then they would be taken out to their trailer and everything inside the building would be completely disinfected before bringing in the rest of their own animals.

Rusty and Kelly also shear llamas for local people who keep them on their farms. Camelids, which include alpacas and llamas, do not shed and continue to add layers of fleece every year. If they are not sheared, they can suffer from the heat.

"That is one thing that is bad for them, heat stress," Rusty said.

David E. Anderson, DVM, MS, DACVS, director of the International Camelid Initiative at Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine, recommends that all llamas and alpacas be sheared before June 1 every year.

The Demans' alpacas are separated into male, female and baby pastures. Babies go into their own pasture when weaned from their mothers at six months. Male alpacas are separated from the females because pedigree is important, and the Demans do not want them to just breed freely, Kelly said.

The "boys" will be moved to the junior pasture when they show signs of maturity. At 18 months old females can start breeding with gestation lasting 11 and a half months.

An alpaca's average lifespan is about 20 to 25 years, Kelly said, and they can breed past 16 years of life. An older alpaca may be sold as a companion animal and may fetch a price of $1,000 as they can still be sheared and the fleece sold.

There are two kinds of alpaca, Huacaya and Suri. Huacaya have more of the "fuzzy teddy bear" look, Kelly said. It is good marketing to have them both, she added. Huacaya fiber is short, dense, crimpy and gives a woolly appearance while Suri fiber is silky and resembles pencil-like locks. Alpaca fiber, unlike wool from sheep, has no lanolin in it and therefore can be carded and spun without being washed. Alpaca fiber is warmer than wool "without the prickle factor," Kelly said. The fiber is soft as cashmere, lighter and warmer than wool and is hypo-allergenic.
Of the 22 natural colors of alpacas, browns and white are easier to produce, Kelly said. True blacks and any shade of grays are more rare. The Demans have three black alpacas and four different shades of grays. They also have fawns, browns and whites.

The blanket, from the middle section of the alpaca, is sheared first (first cuttings) and will be the color classification. The second cuttings are from the neck and shoulders, and the third, from the legs, is usually made into rugs as it is not the best quality.

Fleece from the blanket is prime and the softest, according to Kelly. Huacaya fiber has memory to it and will spring back while Suri fleece has no memory and will not hold its shape.

Rusty transports alpacas all over the country as part of the Demans' business. With help of her kids, Kelly does most of the feeding. She does the breeding herself or with the help of her husband and kids.

"It is definitely a family affair," she said.

An average full grown alpaca is about 140 pounds so it is a manageable size, Kelly said.

"You are not dealing with a big cow, you can do most things by yourself," she added, "except for shearing, you can't shear by yourself which is why family and friends drop by to help."

The Demans sell male and female alpacas. They started with a three-in-one package, which is a pregnant female alpaca with a female baby "on the ground." After giving birth, the female may go back to the original farm to be reimpregnated. They may send their females out or bring males in from another farm for breeding.

Kelly and Rusty now have their own males that they breed with their female alpacas.

"You cannot buy a single alpaca," Kelly said, "They would die of loneliness."

Predators that threaten alpacas include coyotes and local dogs. Kelly said a dog pack can be very dangerous to alpacas. They cannot defend themselves and will run away, she added.

Kelly said she has not had any issues yet and has three dogs that stay out with the alpacas at night. They also have one llama, Dusty, who helps guard the alpacas.

Kelly's best advice for anyone who wants to start raising alpacas is to find a parent ranch that is willing to teach you.

The Demans have stored the fleece they have sheared from their alpacas over the years and are planning to open a fleece store at their farm by mid-summer this year. They are also hoping to have local guild members make items from alpaca fleece to offer for sale at the store.

The Demans participated in National Alpaca Farm Days in 2008, which takes place the last weekend of September. Alpaca farmers across the country open their farms to the public. Rust and Kelly plan to participate again this year.
For more information about the Rock'n D Ranch, visit http://alpacasatrdr.com/ or call Rusty and Kelly Deman at 702-494-7770 or e-mail rockndalpacas@yahoo.com.

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