TWIN FALLS — A slight breeze rolls clumps of brown and white fleece across the ground. Rubber barn boots are piled near stalls, waiting to be slipped over shoes. Adults and children alike peek anxiously into stalls where a quiet buzz and occasional humming can be heard.
Something resembling a big-eyed, four-legged alien steps out of a stall and into the sunlight. “Who’s next?” a voice echoes from inside the stall.
It’s shearing time at Lost Shaker Alpacas southwest of Twin Falls.
“Hummmmm. Hmm,” crooned Katie, an alpaca owned by Rochelle Younger’s family, as she watched several dozen people scurry around the barnyard.
Inside a stall, humming turned into a startled cry as 1-month-old Cuba was placed on padded floor mats.
“Does this one need a tetanus shot?” shearer David Shalala hollered, as he ran his fingers through Cuba’s short fleece to calm her.
Once every spring, Vicki VanRoekel and her husband, Jack Beck, invite members of the alpaca community to have their animals vaccinated, the fleece sheared and toenails clipped.
Alpacas don’t have hooves; they have soft-padded feet, each with two large toes.
“Shearing day is a big day here,” VanRoekel said. Many of the alpacas that come to be sheared are animals bred and raised at the couple’s farm.
Alpacas and their larger cousins, llamas, are natives of the Andes Mountains in South America. Nature has equipped them with a warm fleece coat, which becomes too warm during the summer and must be sheared so the animals don’t overheat.
This year, VanRoekel contracted Shalala, Quentin Shumard and Brian Ginizak of Shear Relief LLC of Akron, Ohio, to shear the alpacas.
“We travel all over the country,” said Shalala, who has sheared sheep, alpacas, llamas and goats since he was 12. “We’ve been from Napa, Calif., to New York already this spring.”
Shear Relief charges $30 per alpaca, VanRoekel said. Shearing takes about 15 minutes per animal. One handler holds the alpaca down as another attaches ropes to its feet and “stretches” it in the stall.
Lost Shaker employee Sarah Nebeker of Twin Falls assists.
Shalala vaccinates the alpaca and clips its toe nails. Ginizak then shears the animal using special clippers with fanned prongs that pull the fibers into the blade as he quickly maneuvers across the alpaca’s body.
“It doesn’t hurt them. It’s quick and easy,” VanRoekel said. “Handling them like this means less stress on the animal.”
As each alpaca is finished, Nebeker gathers the valuable fleece and bags it for the owner.
Alpaca fleece is nearly as soft as cashmere, VanRoekel said. It’s preferred over sheep’s wool, which, unlike alpaca fleece, has microscopic “scales” that make it itchy.
The Younger children — Maggie, 15; Alan, 12; and Kathryn, 8 — have raised alpacas for five years on their hobby farm overlooking Melon Valley near Buhl. They raise their alpacas — Katie, Gumbo, Luna, Pacer and Chichen — for 4-H, but their mother says they may soon start carding, spinning and weaving the fleece.
Nebeker doesn’t have an alpaca of her own. “That’s why I come here,” she said.