I was afraid, not terrified but a little more than anxious. After all, I had lived, barely, through the visit from the equine-stepping-in-as-camelid dentist. Shall I refresh your memory?
The alpacas’ bottom incisors were overgrown like a really bad case of upside down buck teeth. They had to be trimmed and, around these parts where horses rule, finding someone to do it was a challenge. Finally, however, after asking everyone I came in contact with, someone recommended a very nice cowboy-to-the-bone equine dentist, who had also done a few alpacas. The trouble is that in the state of Arizona only veterinarians, not animal dentists, are allowed to administer any sort of laughing gas or valium or anything that would relax our two alpacas so that they would tolerate a strange man using large nippers and diamond files to shorten their teeth.
I swear I could have been killed. David had to leave for a business meeting and abandoned the dentist and me in our attempts to subdue these oh-look-they-can-stand-sixteen-feet-in-the-air-and-crush-me beasts. We haltered them, tied them, full-nelsoned them but we couldn’t get the job completely done. During one of our many struggles, the dentist elbowed me in the face. I was bruised and battered continuously. Finally, with one down and the other being more difficult than the first, I had the bright idea of sitting on the creature to finish the job. He stood from lying on the ground, threw me hard, like I weighed next-to-nothing, which I don’t, and the only thing that saved me was the nearby fence that I managed to grab and hang on to for dear life. If I remember correctly, at that part, we called it good enough and I went and immersed myself in beer and iced my face.
Returning to the present, or at least the almost present as in two days ago, Ernie was here, had brilliantly finished shearing the goats and sheep, and was contemplating the alpacas. Although he did not volunteer this information until later, he had only sheared alpacas once before. Manly man with spectacular work ethic that he is though, he was ready to give it a go. Remembering the dentist and not wanting to kill the nice shearer who drove all the way out to our house and did a fantastic job on our ruminants, I was getting a large case of the heebie-jeebies.
“You know, we don’t have to shear them; it’s okay, really.”
David, Ernie, and Tim all looked at me.
“They need haircuts,” David said.
“What are you scared of?” asked Ernie.
He had not looked in those usually soulful eyes and seen their other side, the I’m-going-to-kill-you-if-you-put-that-thing-in-my-mouth side. I was getting a little more afraid.
Testosterone ruled out, as it often does, and the decision was made to give it a try. Resignedly, I asked that they start with Tumalo. His fur is a deep plum brown and he’s two years younger than Lucky. If we could only get a little bit of fiber, I wanted it from him.
Grabbing his harness and a bowl of pellets, I tried the BD (before dentist) way that I had been successful putting the harness on him. Lay the harness in the treat bowl as he leans in to grab some pellets and pull the harness up and over his nose and buckle it behind his head. Tumalo was having nothing of it. Switching alpacas as Lucky seemed more eager to get a treat, he would not allow it either. Ernie grabbed one of the ropes he had brought with him and tried to lasso Tumalo but the darned Palo Verde tree inconveniently got in the way. David took the other rope and just laid it loosely over Tumalo’s neck and we had him. I put on the harness and the four of us alternately dragged, pushed, and prodded Tumalo into place.
Amazingly, once there, he cushed, alpaca speak for going down on all four knees, and the shearing began. It worked. We all looked at one another with disbelief.
The fiber came off in large soft handfuls. It was beautiful, and best of all, Tumalo sat there on the plywood, allowing us to turn and move him until the job was complete.
Nervous about how far up to shear, Ernie stopped a little below normal but that was more than okay. My relief was palpable but not complete.
You see the harness-putting-on pellets were having an adverse effect on Lucky, the same pellets that he is given each and every evening to induce his entry to the ruminant pen. Green foam started boiling from his mouth; he coughed and wheezed and spat trying to dislodge what I assume was a lump of pellets stuck in his throat. This went on for at least 15 minutes. We all became concerned. Great, I thought, the thing is going to die on me right when we figure out how to shear him. Plus, I kind of like the fuzzy guy.
Thankfully, though, he recovered. Guardedly, we repeated the same motions we had made to harness Tumalo and get him in place, and although he struggled a little more, probably because he still wasn’t feeling particularly well, we sheared him, too.
Devoid of their fur, alpacas are definitely unique in appearance. With a large puff of hair on their heads and part of their necks, from the base of the neck up they resemble golf clubs with plush covers. Looking at their bodies alone, I can’t believe how spindly they look and, conversely, what great strength they possess.
Running the gamut from handsome (Bill) to downright odd (Lucky and Tumalo), the ruminants are finished being sheared and will not need another haircut until March. The hard part for them is done. The fun part for me is just beginning. Stay tuned.