Shearing day mixes nerves, sweat, fleece and fun

Alpacas before shearing

Shearing day calls out the troops at Barnstorm Farm. Our helpers include a physician's assistant, a BP Oil executive and a clinical specialist psychiatric nurse all dressed in their farmhand best. Our shearing professionals, Les and Carol Boswell of Camelot Ranch in Ferndale, Wash., claim we have a crack team, if not also a little crackpot.

Les Boswell's careful shearing

We were disappointed that the Boswells failed to bring their terrior Bonnie, who clears the barn of rodents as a sideline. But we did get the big treat of a professional photographer, Jennifer Nerad,who is working with her friend Tricia Stackle on a fiber arts book, while also profiling a variety of farms.

Jennifer's photos show Les shearing and before-and-after shots sans fleece and worried looks.

Alpacas after shearing

From the archives:

Pim and Emelia come through with Emelia lookalike girls

We were out picking up poop the other night when Emelia's baby, Maisie, approached the wheelbarrel and it dawned on us: Uh-oh.

Wasn't it a young Emelia who was so fascinated by this procedure that she'd hang around and then, just as the wheelbarrel was full, knock it over? She always seemed delighted as she kicked up her heels and ran away.

And now here was her spitting image hanging around the wheelbarrel to "help."

So far, we don't see the same impishness, but everything else about this baby looks very familiar. And that's good news, since Emelia was our farm's first blue ribbon winner. Maisie's sire is Misty Ridge's CL9 Altair, a multi blue ribbon winner with highly dense fleece.

We're not off the hook yet, poop wise. Emelia's mother, Pim, came through with Midori, a cria who is nearly identical to Maisie. Midori was, in fact, sired by Emelia's dad, Emerald Farm's Calypso Cloud, a proud dark silver gray with dense fleece, who is also a multiple award-winner.

All eyes on the pasture: birthing season begins

Deacon and Phantom

It's birthing season at Barnstorm Farm. When we're not outside, we're forever stealing glances out the window. It’s like waiting for a favorite friend who said she'd drop by in somewhere between 335 to 365 days.

What will blue ribbon winner Emelia’s first baby look like? Will steady Alejandra's cria look like she did her first year – a furry-eared character straight from Dr. Seuss?

Roll of the dice

And then there’s the roll of the dice - the big money question. Most males are gelded and sell for $500 as pet or "fleece" animals. Desirable females can go for $10,000 or more.

We started the year with snake eyes. Two-for-two with males. And yet they are so cute . . .

Unflappable Alejandra went first in June. Her little male is named Deacon because of the perfect white ring of fleece around his neck. A week later, Estrella, gave birth to Phantom (both now sold).Then, two weeks after the boys were born, Emelia gave birth to Maisie (Amazing Storm) and grandma Pim gave birth to Midori. Judging by the quality of her fleece, Maisie will be a mainstay in our breeding.

Nell pulls Timmy from the well (or equal dog heroics)

Nell on watch

With Northwest rains beginning their chill, the late fall birth of our last cria of 2008 was reason enough for worry. But that was not the source of concern for our old border collie, Nell, who limped along the fenceline voicing anquish a week after Alexi was born.

"What is it, Lassie, did Timmy fall in the well?" Shirley asked, not taking Nell and her diminished senses seriously.

Nell's interest just one interaction

One of our favorite aspects of raising alpacas has been the interaction of the species. Hank the cat let us know 30 minutes in advance of every birth by hopping to the top of a nearby fence post for the best view, as if setting his lawn chair up early on the parade route. For the alpacas, it's standing room only at the fence to watch their favorite daily soap opera, the afternoon romp of the chickens, vamping Norma Desmonds all.

Dear Nell takes her herd-watching duties seriously, sometimes sleeping in the rain to be near the the alpacas, especially after a new birth. Shirley knows that. She's often the one who convinces Nell that it's time to go to bed. Nonetheless, she playfully mocked Nell's concern. "What's wrong, girl? Did a tree fall on Gramps?"

Shirley races the cria to the vet

The vet kisses Alexi

Then she followed Nell's clouded eyes to the baby, who was staggering into her mother's legs. Something was seriously amiss. Shirley raced through the barn to grab Alexi in the field, rushing Alexi to the vet for intraveneous fluids and antibiotics. The baby's nasty intestinal infection was caught before it was fullblown.

At home, sweet Nell's status soared. Maybe she saved Alexi's life. Maybe she just trimmed days off her suffering. But one thing is certain, says the chagrined Shirley: "She knew!"