Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Fleece preparation to get you those big $'s


 Fleece Preparation (on the animal prior to shearing), as well as your shearing area is vital to keep as clean as possible to obtain those premium fleece prices.

Currently, there is good money and high demand for excellent premium fleeces....Ultrafine and Super fine, but equally, the preparation can let an excellent fleece fail, as explained by Paul Vallely from the Premium Fleece Workshops.

This is an excerpt from his paper he has recently put out to the public, to try and get the word through to the grower, that standards are still low in the preparation of fleece to be submitted for payment, whether it is for the premium fleece and Ultrafine bale, or to the local spinner down the road.

The effort you put in today you will benefit from tomorrow, because even that spinner down the road, if she is happy with your fleeces, not only will she be back for more next year, but her friends will come to...it is easier than finding new clients each year...by keeping the current clients happy.
The word of mouth is a great advertising tool, that is very cost effective.
One other word for the breeders preparing to shear...
My daughter ELyse who has completed the woolclasser course, when setting up the shearing shed prior to starting to shear.
She makes sure she has the First Aid Kit, and also disinfectant, and all is in order. she also checks around the shed, for any sharp objects, that you may have not noticed prior to the inspection, and remember your safety and the animals safety, all electric wires, and leads if possible anchor over your heads, not on the floor, and all objects, that can topple over easy like electric fans for example, to be anchored properly, before any animal enters the shearing area.

Aside from the shearing area, always make sure there is plenty of cool fresh water, and an area away from the shearers, for a tea break.

Set up your large bags, preferably made from cotton, than plastic, and set them up around the wall of the shed.
We still separate each fleece in it's own bag, but at one stage breeders were told to separate each fleece with newspaper, but if left over a long period of time, the newspaper begins to break down, and can contaminate the fleece.

It is advisable though to separate each fleece.

We always have a can of Tetracycline, (this is used also for Pink eye), i find this is a fantastic product for healing, and if an alpaca is accidently cut, spray this on over the wound if small.
If the wound needs stitching, then after the procedure, spray this over the wound, as this will really make it heal fast.

Super Glue...was originally invented to be used in the operating theatre to mend wounds.
My 30 year old son, has a huge wound from a very large operation when he was 10 years old, which was glued together, (his was also secured by a large plastic bandges over the wound), but many shearers these days will glue the skin togethet, wuick, easy, and it works well.
Please remember to just get the glue on the actual part you are joining together, and leave a small opening at the base of the wond, to let any fluid build up to drain away naturally.
Please take note of the following suggestions by Paul Vallely, for the preparation for shearing and your fleeces.
Don't forget your samples for the GIFT test, Paul will be sinding his offsider, kim to great Britain, I am told in May, and i think then over to Europe also in May to do some talks, and also testing of your fleeces.


The alpaca fibre market is witnessing an increase in demand for fleeces, particularly those suitable for the premium end of the textile market. In order to meet the criteria for acceptance into this market, however, fleeces need to be shorn and prepared in a manner that greatly reduces the incidence of contamination and reduces the variation of fleece types within fleece consignment lines.

While many years may be spent achieving genetic progress towards improving fleece type, and while a whole year may be spent trying to maintain suitable fleece quality standards, all these efforts can be wasted in the few moments during the time the respective alpaca fleece is shorn.

These guidelines focus on the consignment of fleeces for the premium suri and haucaya fibre market and therefore, concentrate on the shearing and handling of the saddle area. These guidelines can be applied to all other fleece types, however, their applicability might be dependant on the relative worth of fleeces.

This document was prepared, and ownership is asserted by Australian Alpaca Fibre Testing (AAFT). AAFT give permission for copying or reprinting the whole or portion of the document providing AAFT are acknowledged in the copy or reprint.

1          Pre Shearing Preparation

1.1       Plan order of shearing:         Plan the order of shearing by prioritising the fleece types of your alpacas. The highest priority fleece types should be shorn first. For instance, shear the white superfine types first, then the broader whites followed by colours, lighter shades first. The aim of this practise is to avoid the more valuable fleeces being contaminated by fibres from the lesser valued fleeces. Further, lighter fleece colours should be shorn first as the darker the fibre, the greater the limitations on dying. If catering for the eco market where dying is replaced by using natural colours, it is still good practise to shear the lighter colours first.

1.2       Plan layout of classing lines.             Plan where the various fleece lines will be placed so that the more valuable lines are furthest from the shirting table and shearing area. The reason for this is to ensure contaminant fibres from lesser grade fleeces are not carried past the more valuable lines.

1.3       Make a list of staffing requirements.   Far too many alpaca shearings are carried out in a hasty manner, typified by taking short-cuts and dropping of fleece preparation standards. It is crucial that there is adequate number of suitably trained and/or experienced staff so that shearing is carried out in a careful and unrushed manner. The staffing needs to accommodate the work roles of alpaca handling at the point of shearing, sorting fibre at point of shearing, picking up fleeces, maintaining cleanliness of point of shearing, fleece skirter, fleece classer and general duties to help with herding alpacas and odd jobs. Obviously, some staff will be responsible for more than one work role and some roles might be shared with more than one person. Some shearing teams will provide their own staff, however, it remains the breeders responsibility to ensure there is adequate staff.

1.4       Ensure adequate and serviceable equipment is on hand.  Before shearing commences, there should be a stock-check to ensure all relevant equipment such as shed sweeps, bale holders, wool packs, fleece bags, bale fasteners, marking pens, animal husbandry equipment is on hand and serviceable. Normal straw or wisp brooms should be avoided, as the fibres/straw will contaminate fleece lines. Plastic shearing sweeps should be preferred. Containers should be available for necessary small items such as bale fasteners.

All used wool packs and fleece bags should be turned inside out to remove remaining fibres before being re-used for fleece storage.

A suitable skirting table should be available. The table should be sufficient size to take two saddles from any one alpaca at the same time. The table can be square or round, made from wood or metal, and have about 20mm square gaps to allow short fibres to fall through. The design of the skirting table should avoid fibres sticking to the surface area.

1.5       Determine fleece classing parameters.         Before shearing, it may be advantageous to speak to potential fleece buyers to determine preferred fleece line parameters, particularly with regard to acceptable limits on fibre diameter and fibre length. For this reason, it is a good idea to have fleece test data on the alpacas if available.

1.6              Ensure shearing and classing receives adequate lighting              Lighting is critical for effective quality control during shearing in order to keep the area clean of contaminate fibres such as guard hair. Before shearing, a check on serviceability of lights is required and that sufficient lighting is available. Lighting should be provided by fluorescent lights or skylights (natural light).

1.7       Reduce exposure to wind.                The shed or shearing area should be inspected to ensure the area is not at risk of wind as this will create significant problems for fibre contamination.

1.8       Ensure point of shearing has adequate flooring    The most preferred flooring at the point of shearing is wood, with no cracks or sharp edges that can make sweeping the area a problem. With less desirable flooring such as concrete, a rubber matt of sufficient size might be used.

1.8              Clean the shearing area thoroughly            As fibre contamination is one of the most common causes of devaluation of fleeces, the shearing area needs to be thoroughly cleaned before shearing. Items such as baling twine, old fleeces, feed bags, hay, dirt etc should be removed. It is worthwhile that yards and pens be also cleaned.

1.9       Ensure there are sufficient rubbish containers.     Containers should be available for foreign articles found during shearing such as baling twine. Further, containers should also be available for unwanted fleece types such as guard hair. It is a good idea to clearly label these containers so that the staff know what goes where.


2.1              Brief staff on required work roles and standards.            To ensure all work roles are covered by at least one person, areas of responsibility should be made clear to all staff before shearing commences. The briefing should not be carried out in a condescending manner, but should promote a team spirit in achieving professional outcomes. The briefing should acknowledge that a high standard of fleece preparation relies on every staff member, collectively and individually performing his or her work roles.

2.2       Clean alpacas before shearing.        Some alpaca breeders give their alpacas a clean to remove vegetable matter before shearing. The worth of this practise may need evaluation as any vegetable matter easily removed before shearing would be easily removed during the initial scouring during processing. It may, however, be worthwhile if appearance is a critical factor, such as for individual selling at craft markets.

2.3       The saddle areas should be shorn from the alpaca in a manner that avoids contamination.     Before the first saddle area is removed, many shearers remove contaminating coarse fibres around the belly area. When this is done, the coarse fibres should be collected before they have a chance of falling into the saddle area. Once the first saddle is removed, it should be taken to the skirting table. If the saddle is to be rolled for this, the sides of the saddle should only come into contact with the other side of the saddle, in other words, folded end to end. This avoids the coarse fibres at the edge of the saddle coming into contact with the centre of the saddle. If they come into contact with the centre of the saddle, it is extremely difficult to remove the offending fibres during skirting. The saddle should not be placed on the ground before (or after) skirting.



Before the second saddle is removed, some leg and neck fleece is often shorn. These parts of the fleece should be removed and placed in bags to avoid contamination. The second saddle should be removed and placed on the skirting table as with the first saddle. 

2.4       Always sweep between each alpaca.            The accumulation of guard hair and other coarse fibres left after each alpaca is shorn will substantially devalue fleeces. For this reason, the shearing area needs to be swept or wiped before the next alpaca is brought to the point of shearing.

2.8          If possible, sweep or collect guard hair as it is being shorn         As previously mentioned, guard hair or coarse fibres can substantially devalue fleeces. For this reason, efforts should be made to continually remove such fibres during shearing. This should be carried out in a manner that does not jeopardise OH&S standards, nor impede the shearing process.

2.9       Eating and smoking should not occur near shearing area.           Fibre processors have often complained at the amount of food containers and cigarette butts found in fleece consignments. For this reason, lunches etc should be eaten in an area away from the shearing area. An ashtray should be available outside the shearing area.

2.10     Husbandry practices during shearing.        Many breeders trim toe nails and teeth during shearing. While these objects can be easily removed during intial stage processing, they do more damage to a reputation than to the actual value of the fleece. If possible, toe and teeth trimmings should not be allowed to enter fleeces.      

2.11         Seek feedback from buyers.                     In order to identify areas for improvement in fleece preparation and classing standards, it is a good idea to seek feedback from buyers and/or processors. This practise also cultivates a credible reputation by showing you are concerned with meeting your ‘customers’ requirements.


3.1       Variation in fibre diameter over the saddle area.              The degree of variation over an alpaca has been shown to be slightly correlated to the average fibre diameter. Most alpaca saddles, however, vary by about 2 microns, although at the edge of saddle, the diameter might increase by a further micron. At the edge of the saddle, some clusters of guard hair might be evident. This hair might be as much as 20 microns broader than the centre of the saddle.

3.2       Fleeces should be correctly skirted before storing or packing.     A constant cause of contamination is the storing of fleeces in bags etc before they are skirted. When placed in bags, the risk of guard hair and other problematic fibres is very high. If guard hair finds its way through a fleece while being bagged, its value will be substantially decreased, or in some severe cases, made worthless. Once skirted, they should be placed immediately in packs or bags.

3.3       ‘High value’  fleeces should be covered/protected after skirting.     ‘High value’ fleeces should be bagged in such as way that contaminants will not be able to enter the bag. Such bags should not have holes and the ends should be securely tied with no open ends. If these fleeces are placed in open fleece lines, the fleece bin or pack should be covered to protect the fleeces from airborne fibres or foreign articles.

3.4       Herd recording.         Shearing is an ideal time to record comments regarding fleece type or fleece problems. Recording comments such as tender fleece, discolouring, high evidence of coarse fibres, fleece rot and fleece weights will help with herd improvement. These comments can also be included with fleece midside samples so that all fleece comments can be included with fibre test data.

3.5              Procedure for skirting and classing.           

A         Spread saddles out onto table with the tip side upper most.

A         Remove obvious faults from centre of saddle such as guard hair, urine stained fibre, excessive vegetable matter and foreign objects.

B         Any unwanted colour fibres should be removed

C         Look carefully at middle area of saddle to determine the prominent fleece type for that particular fleece, paying attention to crimp and softness (to evaluate variation in fibre diameter) and fibre length. Then work around saddle to remove short fibres, guard hair and other coarse fibres. Normally, the problematic fibres should be confined to 30 mm to 40mm from the edge of the fleece. Guard hair and other coarse fibres are often identifiable by a pointier tip, a harsher feel and a flatter crimp definition. The important issue with this procedure is that skilling can only come with experience.

D         Check for ‘soundness’ or tender fibre by holding a fibre bundle (about 5mm in width) and try to break it. Check a couple of fibre bundles to ensure the whole saddle is sound. If tender, the fleece will need to be placed in a ‘tender’ fleece line.

E          Place in classing line according to predetermined classing parameters. The best method for determining average fibre diameter is a three point grid test. The next preferred method is to use the mid side test, although it needs to be kept in mind that the mid-side test will be generally between .5 to 1.5 microns finer than the saddle average. Finally, if no test is available, subjective appraisal will have to be relied upon.


Following the above guidelines will assist in achieving high standards of shearing and fleece preparation so that fleece values can be maximised. Underpinning these guidelines, however, is the adoption of a diligent and determined approach to presenting premium grade fleeces to their maximum potential, combined with adequate skilling that can only be achieved through experience.         

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