Deb walked through the names of each llama standing in the fenced in area as we made our way to a back door on the towering red barn. She explained Tanzin, Gandhi, and Dusty comprised the group standing outside and that we would likely find her fourth llama, Michael, inside the barn. As we entered through the old wooden door in the barn’s fieldstone foundation Deb’s prediction proved accurate. Inside the barn stood a massive white llama whose head approached seven feet tall. As my first up close encounter with a llama, I found it hard not to feel intimidated by the presence of the animal in the confined space of the barn’s interior. Clearly comfortable in the environment, Deb exclaimed, “This is Michael!” as the three of us took positions in the barn. Deb proceeded to explain that, while Michael doesn’t like to be touched, he enjoyed giving kisses to people. Amused by this idea, Rachael made a puckered her lips and made a kissing noise in the direction of Michael, which prompted the animal to take two sweeping steps forward and plant his lips lightly on the side of Rachael’s face. The act caught me off guard, causing me to let out a chuckle and the fact the animal understood the concept at all. It was clear we were before and intelligent being, and I was about to cut all of his hair off.
Moments later Deb went into action preparing some rope and a harness to guide Michael into a chute for shearing. Michael carefully observed Deb’s actions as she worked, becoming more aware of her intentions with each new step of the process. With all of the items prepared, Deb moved back toward Michael and said, “Alright! Let’s go!” as she raised the harness toward Michael’s head. Now fully aware of our intentions, Michael raised his head out of Deb’s reach and made a few quick movements toward the door. A second later Michael had pushed the barn door open, maneuver flawlessly between Rachael and I, and slinked outside. I let out a smile at what I just observed as Deb rushed toward the door and called out Michael’s name. “What now?” I asked as Deb acknowledged the unlikelihood of Michael returning and turned back into the barn. “We’ll just wait for another one to come in,” Deb said with confidence in her voice. Continuing, she said, “Tanzin likes people, so he’ll probably make his way up here now that the door is open again.” In response, the three of us stood in waiting for another llama to walk into the barn. Less than a minute after Deb’s last comment a smaller, brown llama came into view a poked his head into the door. “There’s Tanzin!” Deb said as the llama walked into the barn and looked around at the three of us. Amazed at how well Deb knew her animals, I shook my head in disbelief. As I stood watching on, Deb picked up where she left off with Michael without skipping a beat. With Tanzin cooperating nicely, she harnessed his narrow snout and started sweeping the animal’s coat with an oddly shaped tool. Deb explained she was removing the grass and large debris from Tanzin’s coat as she completed the task to her satisfaction. After setting down the tool Deb looked up and handed the leading rope to me. “OK, are you ready for this?” Deb said smiling. I looked down at the rope in my hand before locking eyes with the llama that was no more than two feet in front of me. Hesitant, I said the only thing that came to mind, “Sure.”
Following my response Deb advised me I would need to walk Tanzin through the chute behind me “with some influence.” She explained once the animals neck was through a cross structure positioned near the back of the chute we would hitch the harness to the chute on three sides and begin shearing. Heeding her words, I started working my way backward through the chute guiding Tanzin with the stretch of rope between us. Becoming more aware of my intentions, Tanzin began to resist slightly in response to my efforts. With his feet planting firmly into the barn floor, I began pulling with more force with some encouragement from Deb. Luckily Tanzin gave up his resistance quickly and followed my lead through the chute. With the animal in position, I tied his leader to the front of the chute as Deb clipped ropes to the side of his harness. With moderate effort I had convinced a llama to enter a confined space for shearing. Feeling slightly more confident in my efforts, I looked at Deb and said, “Alright. What do we do next?”
|Guiding him in...|
Deb proceeded to explain the next phase of the shearing process was to blow the dust and dirt out of Tanzin’s hair. She advised me this step was a messy necessity to ensuring the shears remained sharp and fluid during the shearing process. Understanding, I helped Deb get the small blower set up and ready for use. I watched briefly as Deb began blowing Tanzin’s hair with the small black nozzle. Clouds of dust and light hair flew into the air en masse with every inch of coat the air touched. Realizing the air was quickly becoming saturated with debris, Deb handed me the blower and moved to open the barn door. With the door open Deb turned back to me and said, “Alright, your turn... Start from the front and blow backwards.” Following her direction I turned toward Tanzin and lifted the blower in the air. Without hesitation, I moved the air back across the animal’s body and picked up where Deb left off.
With the clump of fur still in my hand, I looked back and Deb. She directed me to throw the fur in the basket and handed me the shears. “You can take over now. Just continue where I left off.” Ready to take on the task of shearing a llama, I grabbed the still running shears and turned toward Tanzin. I took my time as the shears entered the animal’s fur and began dropping hair from Tanzin’s body. Fearful I would hurt the animal, I moved slowly down its side, watching my trim line very closely. After a few swipes at this pace, Deb came back to my side and told me it was ok to move a little faster as I cut. Explaining I was afraid I would hurt the animal, Deb lifted my hand containing the shears and placed my opposite hand against its surface. Shocked at first, I quickly realized nothing happened as a result of Deb’s actions. Unharmed, I pulled my hand away and looked closer at the shears. “They can’t hurt you,” Deb said smiling.
Relieved, I set back to work shearing with knowledge the threat of injury was removed from the process. In turn, I quickened my pace as I worked down Tanzin’s side, collecting masses of hair in baskets on the floor around me. With my comfort growing, I made quick work of the llama’s right side before beginning to shear the left side. In a matter of minutes I sheared away pounds of hair along Tanzin’s left side. As I worked I was surprised at the thin animal appearing as the thick hair disappeared from its body. Finally back to Tanzin’s rear leg, I took a step back and turned off the shears. I quickly brushed myself off and looked over at Deb and Rachael. “I think I’m done,” I said looking over my work. Deb approached my position and looked Tanzin over, taking a few swipes with the shears to clean up a few spots on his body. Turning off the shears Deb looked at me and said, “There you go! You sheared a llama!”
Today I sheared an animal. While it is still hard for me to grasp that fact, I took a lot away from the experience, and I learned a lot about the process of working with animals to make usable material. Having never served as a farm hand before, the whole experience was something new and unfamiliar, but something about getting dirty and working with livestock proved very rewarding. Like many of my “I have never…” events, I don’t know if or when I will get a chance to shear and animal again. That stated, I’m glad I made this experience a part of my “I have never…” journey. Hard work just feels good.