Monday, April 30, 2012

The Shearing of Tinker

033112 017 OT alpaca shearing ak

As Diane Peckham talks to Tinker in a soothing voice, strands of the animal's soft white fur float through the air like dandelion seeds. After a few minutes of careful grooming, and a little grunting and whining from Tinker, another alpaca is free of its winter coat. 

 Once a year, Diane and her husband, Nick, gather their herd of 35 alpacas to shear their fur. "They get so hot with all that on them," Diane says. "You can just feel the heat coming off their skin after you take the fur off." Although they might put up a bit of a fight initially, each alpaca seems happy to be bare-skinned again when it's done. 

 Diane says she first got into alpaca care because she wanted to raise some kind of farm animal. At the time, she says, there were only about 3,000 alpacas in the United States, "so it seemed like a really good bet." Diane and Nick have been raising alpacas on their farm for 24 years; they initially bred the animals and sold them. Now they mostly just use their fur to make rugs and other items. 

 Their view of alpacas has shifted somewhat over the years from the monetary to a different kind of bond with the animals. When asked whether she would ever give up taking care of the beasts, Diane pauses, smiles and says, "I don't think I could stand not looking out and seeing these gorgeous animals." 

 For Diane and Nick, the role of alpaca caretakers is something they say they will never give up. "I can't imagine being retired and not doing anything," Diane says. "Besides, it's kind of fun to shear an alpaca."

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