By Pearl Cantrell
Monitor Staff Writer
CEDAR CREEK LAKE–Janet and Steve Hancock of Trinity Ridge Alpacas and fiber studio gathered their small, wet herd of 33 alpacas into the barn early April 6 and hoped their wool would be dry by the next morning when shearers from Mineola were scheduled to come.
“We kept the fans running all night,” Janet told The Monitor the day after a day-long downpour across East Texas.
She expects to harvest about 150 pounds of one of the world’s finest and most luxurious natural fibers.
Alpaca fiber is warmer, stronger, lighter, and more resilient than sheep’s wool, and is recognized by the worldwide fiber market in 22 natural colors, making alpacas the most colorful animals on the earth!
It also takes and retains dyes very well. The natural colors of alpaca can also be blended producing yet other colors.
Janet has been attracted to the South American camelid from the very start because of its unique and beautiful fiber.
“Our whole focus was the fiber to begin with,” she said.
She operates a fiber studio out of her home out on Farm-to-Market 85 to share her craft and market the fiber, which remains categorized by the name of the animal it came from.
She and her husband have been raising alpacas for the past 13 years, and established a ranch in the area in 2007.
Shearing begins with the animal’s with the whitest wool and progresses to the darkest, she explained. Each is sorted by color and animal.
Some will be sent away for processing, some she will process herself and others will be marketed as raw fiber.
The process includes many steps, but today it is all about the shearing. Each animal is stretched out on padded, washable mat with front and back feet secured.
Shearers first check and clip the eight toenails, two on each foot. Then the shearing begins with the “blanket” or mid section, which is shorn in one big piece weighing up to four and a half pounds. The tail and back area follow, then the back legs, neck and front legs. The teeth are also evened up with a grinder, which is done last.
The shearers work carefully, methodically and quickly. Most the animals take the shearing in stride, with nary a word of complaint, while some of the younger animals seem to scream and complain the entire time, which takes less than 10 minutes per alpaca.
The Hancocks have several friends on hand to assist with the collection of the sheared material into pre-labled clear, plastic bags.
A primary shearer does the first shave, then a cleanup shearer takes over. In this way, two animals are going through the process at a time.
After the cleanup, the animal goes back into its halter and is released back to standing. The ranch staff takes over, guiding the alpaca onto a scale for weighing. This step is important in determining the amount of medication needed for de-worming and other administrations over the next several months.
Lastly, the alpaca is led into the pasture feeling loads lighter and looking a little naked, but nice.
Janet is finalizing her application to trademark her fiber products under the label Paca-Perfect.
“We are one of the few alpaca ranches that can show you how to take the raw fiber from fleece to finished products,” Janet explains. In addition to selling quality fiber products, she teaches various fiber arts classes.
She offers instruction, as well as spinning and weaving equipment.
To learn more, call her at (972) 877-5060. The ranch is located at 33064 FM 85 Kemp, TX 75143-6430.
More photos from this event can be found in the Sunday, April 27, 2014 issue of The Monitor.