Mom and I took a little jaunt up the coast yesterday for pie and an impromptu yarn crawl of sorts, which put us in a great position to visit Village Farm Alpacas. I’ve been interested in owning alpacas for a while now–it’s one of the reasons we bought the house we did–but this is the first chance I’ve had to get a better look at what alpacas take to raise. Terry, one of the owners, shared a wealth of information with me and I am so impressed that I would like to encourage anyone in the market for alpacas (breeding stock or pets) to give these folks a call.
What is the alpaca biz like?
I’m not interested in alpacas as a business, per se, but the Village Farm model is pretty interesting. They have a store, open 7 days a week, which is critical for supporting the breeding operation. If you’re selling animals for breeding stock, the only way to command the best prices on the market is to take your animals to shows to be judged on their fleece, size, health, etc. – but champion bloodlines are worth the cost of traveling to the shows. All of the Village Farm fleece is processed by one-woman with a solar-powered mill who runs her operation nearby, so they are able to sell roving and yarn to get a better market value for their products. If you buy from the store (which has a great selection of products from their animals and from a farm coop in Peru), they’re happy to take the time to give you a farm tour, which is the part I was particularly excited about.
What makes a great fleece?
Before we met the animals, Terry showed us a prize winning fleece and talked about what you want to see in a top quality fleece and how you look for that in an animal. Having a low micron (super thin fiber, about a fifth of a human hair) is valuable for softness, which you just have to have tested if you want to bring in top dollar for the fleece. For ease of spinning, the lock should have a good number of crimps per inch as well as a high amplitude crimp (bigger difference between the peaks and valleys of the crimps). You’ll want a good fiber density and fiber that organizes itself into bundles, which Terry pointed out you can see even from a distance in the animals–they’ll have good, poofy top-knots and look more wooly than hairy.
Meeting the animals
Terry introduced us to the ladies and the crias first, but the real fun came when he brought us to a pen to visit the gelding males. Geldings are MUCH less expensive than females or sires, the same way that dogs are less expensive if you’re not buying to breed them. They’re less aggressive than sires and friendlier than pregnant females, so this is what I would be looking at for my own little herd. Karuso (grandson of a champion) wandered directly over to me, and after talking to us a bit about how alpacas should and should not be handled (they’re herd animals who need to understand their place in the herd to be sociable, not cats you can pet and coddle without developing behavioral issues), he let me try holding Karuso in place and scratching his neck. Karuso wasn’t impressed with my animal-managing skills and ducked away after a minute, but I got enough time to get a little taste of what it feels like to handle alpacas in order to care for them.
What do alpacas need?
As Terry offered to put together a package of animals for me, which I sadly had to refuse because we are not quite ready for alpacas, he gave me a basic sense of what you need in order to care for alpacas.
- Land: One acre can support up to 8 alpacas.
- Company: Alpacas need other alpacas–three is the minimum you should keep.
- Shelter: Alpacas need a simple three-sided shelter for the colder months.
- Feed: Each alpaca goes through about 25 bales of hay annually, plus a specific feed supplement.
- Water: Obviously, all animals need water, but you need to either have a frost-free tap and a self-heating trough or buckets for winter or the time and willingness to haul enough water for three large animals. (Well, large compared to rabbits, anyway.)
- Fencing: Terry recommended electric fencing, but I might need to research that more deeply and possibly consider other options because having sweet fluffy alpacas behind electric fencing not far from the border of a residential neighborhood with a lot of kids strikes me as a recipe for deep-fried, underage trespassers who can’t be bothered to read warning signs.
- Protection from coyotes: Their setup involves leaving talk radio playing at the edge of the field at night.
The last critical element is, of course, time. After getting rabbits last year, I can’t downplay this element–the rabbit grooming takes far more time for me than I thought it would after talking with pros. And while alpacas supposedly don’t require much grooming aside from toenails and an annual shearing, I suspect there’s always going to be some aspect that just takes me more time because I’m not doing the task frequently enough to get fast at it. So…not a decision to be undertaken lightly. Thought and planning required.
What doesn’t require much thought is pointing out that the Village Farm folks have some lovely fibers and garments in their online store as well, so if you’re looking to buy roving/yarn from really nice people with beautiful animals, you might want to bookmark it. And if you happen to have land ready to go and know you’re up for the time commitment of owning alpacas, you should probably give Terry and Bonnie a call–they’re very knowledgeable and helpful.
They’re also about two minutes away from Eagle’s Nest Yarns and the excellent strawberrry-rhubarb pie at Moody’s Diner, so there are many good reasons to make Waldoboro a stop on your next coastal Maine yarn crawl. 🙂