On the morning on March 19, 14 alpacas and one llama prepared for their yearly shearing at Bradley County’s certified organic farm, Red Clay Farms.
Owned and operated by the Shaffer family, Ron, Cynthia, and Seth, Red Clay Farms in Cleveland, TN provides homes for rescue animals, but also provides fiber for yarn and organic food for the community.
Starting with a son’s desire for horses, this farm houses three horses, four great pyrenees guard dogs, cashmere goats, jacob sheep, chickens, 14 alpacas, and two cats.
“We decided we wanted to expand to a fiber farm sometime before 2008 and that’s where we got llamas because they can be guard animals for jacob sheep,” said Cynthia Shaffer, mother of the family. “We went through the rescue because at that time alpacas and llamas were very expensive.”
The family quickly found out that the going rate for llamas and alpacas range from five thousand to ten thousand dollars. However, after discovering Southeast Llama Rescue Association, they were able to find rescue alpacas at a more reasonable price ranging from one hundred to two hundred dollars.
“One day a big trailer pulls up and all these really wild critters come out,” said Seth Shaffer, son of the family. “So that’s how we really started getting rolling with the alpacas.”
The family not only saves money by purchasing rescue alpacas and llamas, but also provides a safe place for the animals to live and be protected.
“We do not sell our alpacas or llamas, we keep them here” said Cynthia. “This is their forever home.”
The majority of the alpacas on Red Clay Farms are Fiber Males with Suri or Huacaya fiber. The fiber from Suri alpacas provide more of a drape texture fitted for knitting and crocheting while the Huacaya alpacas have fiber with more fluff for thicker material.
Without shearing of their fiber, alpacas and llamas will overheat above eighty degrees and die. In prevention of overheating, every year around March, Jamie Jones Shearing comes prepared to rid the animals of their fiber.
Jones typically starts his shearing route at Red Clay Farms and works his way to Texas and further up north and the east coast for three months, travelling around fifteen hundred miles.
With an early and cold morning, Jones starts his season of shearing with the well equipped Shaffer family and the fifteen animals.
“I have been coming here for several years and Ron and Cynthia and Seth have done great since the beginning. They have a lot of experience and they already know what to do,” said Jones. “It’s a great stop. I’ve always enjoyed coming here, they work hard at it, and they make it easy for me.”
In preparation, the animals receive their dewormer shot, given every three months, as well as their CDNT shot, a tetanus vaccine given once a year, all administered by Cynthia.
Despite the distress and confusion of the alpacas and llamas coming out in spitting or loud screeches, the animals were shaved safely and quickly.
“Today was really smooth,” said Cynthia. “We sheared fifteen minutes per animal so we started out at about 6:30 this morning shearing and we were done by ten. So that was pretty good for fifteen animals.”
During the shearing, some people from the community gather to watch the event.
Collegedale local Sandra Twombly has been coming to watch the shearing for the past three years with her family.
“First time was curiosity to see how they do it and then the other two years I brought my grandson the second year, my daughter this year,” said Twombly. “It’s just interesting to watch them, watch them escape, some of them escape.”
At its core, the shearing of the animals is a necessity for the survival of the alpacas and llamas, but has turned into an exciting event for the community and the Shaffer family as well.
“It’s fun. It’s one of those experiences that it happens once a year and I enjoy more the physical aspect of it,” said Seth. “Getting to basically wrestle with the alpacas and having to grab them, put the halters on them, get them out into the shearing area and what not, it’s a very active morning so to speak.”
Each animal’s fiber is gathered and separated into two bags. Labeled by the animal’s name, bag one includes the longest and best fiber coming off of the body and neck while bag two holds the shorter, dirtier fiber used for smaller projects like wool dryer balls or added to the garden for organic matter.
With the fiber separated into sections, this helps the family clean the fiber and send the best to the mill to be spun into yarn and sold at local markets.
After all of the shearing, cleaning, and selling of fiber is completed, the family is able to continue their work on the farm tending to the animals and the community.
From creating organic produce like kale, lettuce, eggs, and more to creating yarn out of their animal’s fiber, Red Clay Farms provides rich resources for animals and people in east Tennessee.
Meet the Storytellers
Blake Davis is a Senior Communication Major at University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. He is passionate about creating and telling stories through a video camera. For over 6 years, he has been improving his craft in videography. He also loves playing Spikeball and is a collegiate National Champion. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Abigail Frazier is a senior majoring in Communication and Sociology at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. She is passionate about journalism and works as the news editor for The University Echo. Frazier can be contacted at email@example.com.
Bailey Frizzell is a student at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and plans to graduate in May 2019 with a degree in Communication and a minor in Spanish. She is passionate about telling stories through photography, and hopes to pursue a career in photojournalism after graduation. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cassie Whittaker is a graduating senior at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga with a degree in Communication and a minor in Spanish. She plans on pursuing a social marketing career in the private sector and is experienced in writing and presenting marketing plans. Her interests include volunteering and hiking around the city of Chattanooga which drives her toward a career that helps other people. Contact me for opportunity in these fields at email@example.com.