It's time. It's time to strip those animals of their worldly coverings and harvest their wool. It's time for all fiber producing animals to pay up for a year's board and care. Yes, it's time to shear.
However, the spring has been slow in coming and the temperature's still only hovering around 50F today with threats of freezing rain in the evenings. So, we've had lots of time to piddle around and "get ready". We've already sheared our goats, thankfully, because they needed it so badly. They were shivering in their little shelters immediately after the denuding, so we opened up the west side of the chicken house for them to huddle into. It's helped them a lot and when the pasture gate is open, they hardly complain at all while they barge out toward the greens. As soon as the rain starts to fall, though, they all run, lickety split, to the shelters again as if they'll melt in the rain.
We're sharpening our own blades this year. We purchased the sharpening stone in partnership with another alpaca farm, trading a portion of an animal for our part of the purchase price. Last year, I spent over $300 getting my blades sharpened throughout the shearing season. We figure that this will pay for itself within 2 seasons even if we don't take in any outside sharpening work.
So here it is, our nifty DIY blade sharpener. Like most things, there's a trick to it and being the visual learner that I am, I had to have our partnering farmer come over and show me how to do it right. I had sharpened several sets the week before to do some shearing out near the Nebraska line and the blades that I sharpened wouldn't cut. As it turns out, they were sharpened just fine, but didn't get completely demagnetized. Go figure. It's a good thing I had two sets of brand new blades with me or I'd have lost the job altogether.
This is how it works. You charge the stone with oil and grit, not too much of each or you'll pretty much make mud. Hold the blade with the magnet so that you don't touch the stone as it turns clockwise. Press the blade to the stone and repeatedly move the blade from center to outside edge in a straight line. There should be an even shower of sparks and you should be able to see the worn parts clear away little by little. It takes just a few seconds to sharpen a blade, but it takes a keen eye to make sure it's done correctly. Blades are used in sets--a comb and a cutter. Both are sharpened exactly the same way, but the combs take a little longer and little more attention because they're larger. This is a group of 10 combs waiting to be sharpened. You can see the magnet in the next picture and the word "demagnetizer" is a strong clue to the last one.
After sharpening, you must pass them over a demagnetizer. I had done this previously, but I didn't know that if you turn off the demagnetizer while the blade is still on it, it will re-magnetize the blade. So...I pass the blades over the demagnetizer, take them at least three feet away and then I can turn off the demagnetizer. After that, you wash the blades in a degreaser solution, blow dry with an air compressor and then oil them so they're ready for use. I did my 16 sets of sheep blades and 6 sets of goat blades in under an hour, from beginning to end.
The girls and I have a shearing job this Saturday for 4 alpacas and 9 angora goats. We'll start shearing our alpacas as soon as the weather calms and the nights are slightly warmer. I'll be moaning about my sore back and knees by then, just so you know. It's better to know what to expect, I think.
See you on the other side...