Just after sunrise, a mud-caked BMW makes its way down the gravel driveway at Sycamore Creek Farm, near Rocheport. The car comes to a stop and two men get out. They start unloading toolboxes, ropes and electrical cords. In the distance, an alpaca screeches a high-pitched warning squeal.
“They’re here,” shouts Catherine Stickann, the farm owner, as she spreads her arms wide to prevent Eddie, the only white alpaca in the group of 10, from getting out of his pen.
Alpacas, originally from South America, are coveted for their unique hair, which grows as long, silky fibers. The material is collected once a year through a process called shearing.
“Shearing day is a big deal,” says Stickann, who began preparing months in advance for this day. Through a local contact, she booked a shearing session with Michael Banks and Greg Cattanach, traveling alpaca shearers from New Zealand.
She invites neighbors and friends not only to watch, but also to help. While Banks and Cattanach are busy shearing, others help hold the animals down with ropes, collect the fibers from the floor and herd the next animal into the waiting pen. The process moves as smoothly as an assembly line.
Banks and Cattanach are both from Christchurch, New Zealand. Banks said New Zealand has 10 times as many sheep as people. He started shearing sheep 12 years ago and eventually switched to alpacas. Now he and his friend Cattanach, who joined the tour this year, travel the globe, following the alpaca shearing seasons.
While traveling in the U.S., they drive a 1985 BMW that they bought used in Colorado and had equipped with a Global Positioning System to help them get around.
After visiting about 15 farms in Missouri, the men will move on to Ohio and eventually to Europe. They spend about 10 months per year on the road.
“It’s very hard,” Banks says. “My girlfriend is very patient.”
Banks says he doesn’t have a favorite place and likes each country for different reasons.
“The hospitality in America is incredible,” says Banks, who often stays with farm owners along the way. “We’re treated like kings when we come over here.”
As if to illustrate his point, Stickann calls down from the farm house and says, “Are you sure you can’t stay for breakfast?” She has prepared a hot meal including coffee, juice, eggs and bacon for everyone.
But Banks and Cattanach can’t stay. There are more alpacas to be sheared. They climb back into their tightly-packed BMW and continue on their way.