This is me.
This is me on an almost 90 degree day, after shearing nine of my llamas over the course of about two hours.
This is me sweaty and exhausted. Covered in tiny bits of wool. Thoroughly uncomfortable
And thrilled that my animals were cool again.
For those of you who don’t know, llamas are wool-bearing animals and must be shorn yearly. Without shearing, they’re particularly susceptible to heat stress, which can kill them…pretty quickly. This is especially true in places where it gets HOT. And in Illinois? It gets HOT.
Seventeen years ago, when I started working on this ranch as an almost-fifteen year old, I was immediately thrown into the work of shearing prep. Back then, there were sixty llamas instead of eighteen, and they were on a work rotation of grooming and washing that left them fluffy, clean, and ready to be shorn. Shearing was our goal for months.
A shearer was hired in from out of state, and our shearing weekend was orchestrated like an professional event. People were assigned roles. (Halterer, holder, wool gatherer, etc. There was a clipboard and everything.) We were a well-oiled, shearing machine that started at precisely 8 am and made it through sixty animals in two days. Plus, my bosses kept me well stocked in Gatorade and Red Bull (ugh, yes, I used to drink Red Bull), and they bought all of us lunch.
A few years ago when my ex and I took over the farm, he took over shearing. Friends helped when they had time–gathering wool or grabbing the next animal in line while I held and he sheared–and we bought them lunch. We were down to about thirty animals then.
Over the next few years, the animals became fewer. (Some of you have read about how we lost several of them.) Shearing became less of an event. My ex would just disappear for a bit, and then come back and tell me that he sheared a few animals.
Then, last year, I got a divorce. He got his much-desired freedom. I got a ranch he didn’t want to be tied down to, sixty animals I loved, and a list of about one thousand things to do that I didn’t know how to do, including shearing. (Also, a mild mental breakdown…but I’ll get into that later…maybe.)
He sheared for me last year, after our divorce, and told me that he always would if I wanted him to. Instead, I had him teach me how to do it myself, sensing even then that he would move onto something else very quickly, and that we wouldn’t stay friends forever.
I was right.
And this year, I did all of it.
I sent my shears off to be maintained. I ordered new blades. I ignored the newly cleaned and sharpened shears for a week, afraid to tackle my next hard thing.
When the weather turned stupid hot, I stood in my feed room in a mild panic when I couldn’t immediately remember how to install the blades on the shears.
Then, I googled how to install the blades correctly.
Eighteen llamas and alpacas.
I haltered. I prepped. I sheared. I was the shearing team, and no one bought me lunch. Most stood tied without a holder. For one particularly smart llama–who figured out how to unplug the shears because he didn’t like them–I had to call my dad into hold, so he couldn’t reach the cord, but mostly I did it myself.
It took me three days and a lot of Gatorade, but the whole herd is shorn and de-wormed. (I figured I would do bi-yearly shots while I was at it.) And, honestly? I’m pretty proud of myself. I’m also pretty proud of my llamas and alpacas who mostly behaved really well.
Also, while I was trying to collage photos of newly shorn llamas, I created a “push-me, pull-you.” (You’re welcome.)
Turns out, shearing is another thing I can do; it’s amazing what you can figure out if you have to.
I was watching the llamas today as they grazed, cool and comfortable with their wool shorn off and bagged up in the barn. The breeze was soft. Crickets and frogs were chirping, and I was struck, yet again, by the fact that there is no where else on the planet I would rather be. This place has stretched me again and again. It is the hard thing that I have to tackle every day. And it’s the right thing.
I can do hard things.
So can you. I promise.