The farrier that trims the animals hooves at Heartland came this spring and sheared the llamas and sheep. As I understand it, he doesn't usually shear for spinning, he shears just to get the heavy coats off the animals for summer. If you're an official shearer, you cut the wool or fleece(sheep)/ hair (alpacas and llamas) in a certain way to get the very best parts in the longest lengths possible. First it's skirted, which essentially cuts off the poo and other nasty bits that have to be removed before it can be washed. Sometimes you see sheep with coats on. This is done in an effort to keep the fleece clean so you don't have to do so much picking, or lose so much wool, due to all the yuckiness. This wasn't skirted so what I got was 5 trash bags of fleece/hair with everything under the sun in it; poo, urine, vegetable matter, wood chips...and in copious quantities. A hardier soul than me could have probably hand washed and processed it all, but you'd need a stronger stomach and a bigger work space that I have.
I called several carding mills in the area to see if anyone would be able to clean it all for me. This was right in the middle of the time of year when all of the area farmers that produce wool were dropping off their hundreds of fleeces at the mills for processing, so a couple of mills couldn't get to it for a few months (and I needed as much time as humanly possible to hand spin it) or in one case, the mill didn't have machines that could take hair the length of the llama....it would gum up their machines. Finally I found Rainbow Farm Carding Company in New Glarus. Patti, one of the owners was so nice. She agreed to pick, wash and card it (which means to run the washed wool/hair through big brushes over and over until it's just blended fluff) for me and did so in 1 month! I am eternally grateful to her for that.
What I got back was 18# (4 chock-a-block full Rubbermaid totes and then some) of cantaloupe-sized balls of carded 'roving'. Here is a photo of one ball that I have in a bowl so it doesn't roll around when I spin it. Looks like of like polyester fiberfill.
Because it was so full of junk when I gave it to Patti, it came back with a lot of vegetable matter in it. As I spin I pick out little bits of hay and wood chips. These have all been cleaned, but just got stuck in the wool. Some of the bits make it into the finished yarn. I like it that way and have knit several things with 'rustic' wool, but if one doesn't like it, it can be picked out as you knit with the finished yarn.
Next I take the roving (above) and spin it into 'singles' on my spinning wheel, Mabel. The wheel just twists the roving around into a spun 'string'. You can see two bobbins with leader strings hanging off them on the front of the wheel. These are spares. The one that is 'working' is the one at the very top of this photo. Once a bobbin is full, I put it on the front of the wheel, put an empty bobbin on top and ply the singles into yarn. If you want a fine yarn, you can ply (or twist) two strands together to make a thinner yarn. In the interest of time, I'm Navaho plying this yarn into three ply. Essential I am 'crocheting' a long string of singles to make a hardy yarn three stranded yarn, out of one stand of singles.
Once I make two bobbins full of yarn, I wind it up into skeins. Each of the skeins so far has been 110-120 yards each and weighs about 3-5oz. It takes me about 8 hours to process a skein. I expect to get faster as time goes on. Then I hand wash the skein and dry it, the roll it up and put a label on it. Each label has the yardage, weight, content (some is wool and some is a wool/llama blend) and the name and picture of the animal(s) who donated their locks to the cause.
The two left-hand skeins are from Bert the sheep. You can see, it's a pretty heavy duty yarn. It will make really warm knit goods. The one on the right is courtesy of our miniature Shetland, Teddy's, wool. It is soft as duck's down and a little bit lighter weight than Bert's.