Last Friday marked one of the most memorable to date of my “I Know Jo” ventures. Darcy Weisner McGill, her husband Brian along with her Mom Carol Weisner invited me into the inner circle of alpaca shearers at Victory Ranch. These adorably cute fleeced animals are sheared once a year. Alpacas were first domesticated and bred by the ancient tribes of the Andean highlands of Peru, Argentina, Chile and Bolivia specifically for their natural fiber. It was known as “The Fiber of the Gods,” and was used to make clothing for royalty. Their fiber today is spun into yarn then woven into a variety of items including sweaters, shawls, socks, blankets, ponchos, and hats. Victory Ranch is now the largest alpaca yarn retailer in the United States. Darcy told me on my last visit that alpaca fiber does not contain lanolin like sheep wool, so it never has to be chemically treated. It is as natural as it gets. Most people who are allergic to wool do not experience those symptoms with alpaca garments. Plus it is softer, lighter, and warmer than wool.
At Victory Ranch, shearing time is a huge event. Friends, community, family, and clients return to lend a hand year after year. Some come thousands of miles to volunteer their services! I learned quickly that it takes a village to shear an alpaca. The master shearer, Tom (I did not get his last name) comes annually from Colorado. The rest of the crew has duties, which they go about diligently with joy.
Carol walked me through the entire process. First the alpacas are brought into an exterior pen adjoining the barn. Each one is cleaned with an air hose and thoroughly brushed to remove any grass, dirt and debris from their coats. During this stage, Darcy, (having studied homeopathic and allopathic medicines handles 90% of the veterinary services herself), gives them a full check-up. Her goal is healthy animals with high quality fiber. One at a time the alpacas are then led into the barn, placed upon a table by a handful of volunteers and held gently yet securely as Tom shears. Two of the volunteers retrieve the finest of the harvested fiber and place it in bags. Darcy provides labels with the name of each alpaca to tag the bags. When their fiber is spun and sold, each skein is labeled with the name and photo of the alpaca it came from adding a personal touch. Some of the fiber is spun in Mora, some given to volunteers and some of it remains at Victory Ranch. Even the fiber that falls on the floor is swept up and sent to a gentleman who turns it into rugs. None of it is wasted. Darcy always puts the finishing touch on her babies by cropping their bangs! Once off of the shearing table more volunteers treat the alpaca’s ears to fend off mites and spray their sleekly groomed bodies with sunscreen. These little creatures are happier to leave than they were to enter. It reminded me of my little dog and how she would not go willingly for her haircuts, but once she was groomed, she was a happy camper!
Carol told me that a neighbor cooks lunch for the entire group and delivers it daily during shearing. She said it is all of the people coming together that truly makes shearing a memorable event year after year.
The shearing started on Friday and runs until 4:00 pm today. By days end 300 alpacas will have been sheared. There is still time for you to get in your car and take the beautiful 40-minute drive through the canyon to Victory Ranch. You will take a tour complete with Alpaca 101, be invited into the field to hand feed the alpacas and then get to glimpse the shearing process. Next go shop in their 3000 sq. ft clothing and gift shop. Forty local artisans are represented in the gift shop. Plus during shearing they are running a “Buy One Get One Free Sweater Sale.” And don’t forget to say hello to the large gentle Great Pyrenees dogs, considered family members, who protect the alpacas from predatory wildlife as they freely roam the acreage of the ranch. It’s a fascinating fun way to spend the day!
As I shared last year, Darcy and Brian run the entire Ranch operation on organically sustainable principals, learning the shearing process is done with the same care made sense. They compost (and sell) waste from the animals and the kitchens, and they catch rainwater to re-water their fields when possible. They even sell eggs from their organically raised chickens! They sell alpacas with expert follow-up support and they board with 0% financing.
Victory Ranch is open daily 10:00 am to 4:00 pm. If you can’t visit today plan to visit during the months of June thru October when the babies, known as crias, are born. You may even be around to help name one. The way I see it, you have no reason Not to make a trip to Victory Ranch!