Our WWOOFing assignment in Mirboo North on Brigitte and Keith’s farm with over 100 alpacas, Effy, Tigga and Bagheera.
We’d looked forward to this day ever since Keith told us we could join him on his shearing job and replace the shearer who had suddenly cancelled on him. Not that we’d be doing any kind of shearing ourselves, but still we were going to see it happen! And that was more than enough. Ok, it may have been a bonus to actually shear one too, but not essential.
I say ‘looked forward to this day’ because it was going to be the first time in almost a week that we’d get our hands really dirty with the alpacas, by doing something specifically alpaca focused – which is a main reason why we chose this farm for our WWOOFing experience.
We woke early at 6am, and got ready for the day, with plenty to drink and eat. Then we all jumped into Keith’s van and headed off into a beautiful blue sky morning. Our first stop was just outside Leongatha, where five woolly customers were waiting for us. Rather in a state of panic when they saw us pull up.
First things first, we had to learn the routine. Keith told us what to do, what to set up and what to get ready. Hildegunn and I were given our assigned roles and tasks for the day – her the alpaca
We’d been joking about jumping onto an alpaca for the past several days. The whole concept of shearing as described by Keith had made our imaginations run wild, and conjured up all sorts of weird and wonderful images. We didn’t really think we’d be jumping onto the back of an alpaca, but to actually lie on top of one, while it was quite obviously distressed, was quite another experience altogether.
If you’ve ever seen the movie ‘Alien’, and have heard the horrendous shriek that comes out of the alien’s mouth as it chews up its next helpless victim, then you can kind of imagine the shriek of an alpaca that is about to get shawn.
Firstly though, Alpacas and Llamas are not the same. Alpacas are bred for their wool. Llamas are bred for carrying loads. Both animals are exceptional herd guardians and are used to protect sheep and other grazers. Llamas are generally much larger than alpacas and according to Keith, tower over you like a human is a little pip squeak. Probably the camel blood that runs in them.
Alpaca fleece is exceptionally thick and dense. Think of a sheepskin with ten times the intensity, and then you have an alpaca. Their wool does not contain any lanolin or naturally occuring oil as a sheep’s wool does, which makes it quite difficult to shear alpacas as you constantly have to oil the blades (and which is not the case when shearing sheep).
There are also two types of alpaca, each recognisable due to the type of fleece they have. Think Bob Marley compared to xxx.
Shearing an alpaca is quite similar to putting an alpaca on a spit roast. The objective is to tie its legs and stretch it so that it lies in suspended animation while being pampered by the shearing blade.
On a day like today, where the alpacas were probably exploding of heat (I guessed after watching them run up to the water trough and promptly dunk their legs into it to cool down), they were quite happy and pleased after the soul wrenching experience of being strung up. Some decided to celebrate with a roll around on the dusty ground, and others thought a good chew of grass was more than enough celebration.
Some people should definitely not have animals. A case in point.
Once all that fleece comes off, you’ll realise just how scrawny and skinny they really are underneath all that wool.
On the way home, I asked Keith where the Strzelecki mountains were. After living in Europe for so long, when you think of the word ‘mountain’, you kind of expect a vast and impressive explosion of rock to suddenly jut upwards out of the horizon. Norwegian style. But all we could see were green rolling hills for as far as the eye could see. That was when Keith laughed and pointed at those green rolling hills and more or less said ‘that’s them!’.
Contrary to what people think, Australia is no stranger to mountains: the foothills to the Australian Alps – which are almost as high as Norway’s mountains – are located not too far away from Leongatha. Later at home when I looked up the Strzeleckis, I realised that their correct term is Strzelecki Ranges, and they are classified as a kind of ‘low mountain range’.
The Strzelecki mountains were named after Pawel Edmund Strzelecki, a Polish explorer who surveyed the Gippsland in Victoria. Eventually he went on to climb Mt Kosciuszko (also called Jargangal), which is Australia’s highest mountain at 2,228 metres and named after the Polish-Lithuanian hero General Tadeusz Kosciuszko. Bet he never thought he’d see his name given to a mountain in Australia.
October 27 Beautiful autumn light Great light and atmosphere this morning.
November 6 What do I miss most about not living in Australia?
Most definitely the bush and wildlife, especially the diversity of eucalyptus trees, each with their own mood, colour and texture. Plus their sheer size. Feeling very excited about being on Australian soil and soaking it all up. Beautiful sunset tonight. First warm spring day since we arrived. Lots of fun with the alpacas and tipi building. No sooner had Hildegunn stepped off the plane onto Australian soil, than she sprung into action and flexed some creative muscle. Here she is sketching a series of American Indian inspired wildlife illustrations onto a massive tipi which will be painted and erected in the next few days – complete with fascinated audience (four-legged woolly kind) looking on..
December 13 Baby alpacas galore
Yesterday we took a quick trip back to the alpaca farm in Mirboo North to take some photos for the alpaca farm’s web site. It was a cool 27 degrees down there, and a warm 38 degrees in Melbourne when we arrived at our first housesitting assignment in the late afternoon. There was plenty of action at the farm with the new baby alpacas checking each other out; the rescue of three young male alpaca runaways; one of the alpha males putting those boys in their place; and Mrs Goose’s goslings now a little bigger. 😉 Everyone seemed to head for the shade, which is what you do in deliciously hot weather.
January 27 Teepee painting adventures
Hildegunn has been busy adding a new animal totem to the teepee at the alpaca farm: two lovely snakes with tails curling around one another. 🙂 It’s been a labour of love in the heat, but she’s enjoying every minute of it.
January 27 Keeping cool
What you do when you’re an alpaca and it’s 38 degrees outside. Keep your feet cool!
January 28 The eternal cycle at the alpaca farm
Back at the alpaca farm in Mirboo North for the fourth time. Experiencing nature’s eternal cycle of birth and death. 🙂 Hello to the many new babies and goodbye to the grand old man, Riegel, who returned to nature this morning, and is now running through fields in the alpaca afterlife.