Alpacas come in twenty-two colors, from a true black to shades of brown, gray and white; two types: huacaya and suri; and are members of the camelid family (two-toed ruminants with a three- chambered stomach). In August of this year, Tracy Abram and her mother Connie Gsell introduced four, three-year old huacaya alpacas to their dairy farm on Kent County’s Broadneck. The Spy spent a fascinating afternoon at the farm recently meeting Fiona, Autumn, Nikki, Oso, and their minders.
Abram explained that they want the alpacas both as pets, and for the income; selling the fleece to a coop and animals to other farms and breeders. They plan to eventually keep a herd of about twenty. The three females are all pregnant, and due in the spring. Gestation period is eleven months; it is rare for them to have twins. The females only come into heat when they are around males. The lone male on the farm, Oso, is gelded.
The first couple of months were spent domesticating and socializing the alpacas, as they were quite shy. They took them for walks down the farm lane every week, (and still do), petted and bonded with them. Gsell said in the warmer weather she would bring a chair out to the pasture and read. She added that the females really like her husband, and give him a kiss every morning when he comes out. They do spit – but at each other, over food quarrels or in asserting dominance.
Alpacas are relatively low maintenance. In addition to grazing in the field, the four eat a bale of hay a week and eight ounces of alpaca feed for their coat twice a day. Carrots and apples are treats, although they must be finely chopped, or the food will get stuck going down that long neck. Gsell said the worst job is poop patrol; which needs to be done daily for parasite prevention. Alpacas don’t like rain, although they love it when Abram and Gsell spray their legs in the summer heat to cool them off.
Shearing is done once a year, in April. The quality of the fleece determines the price. Tracy parted the animals’ coats, demonstrating the difference between male and female. The gelded white male will have the best fleece, as all his hormones are all directed toward growing a thick coat. It was also considerably softer.
Alpaca fiber wicks moisture, doesn’t hold odors, is extremely durable and naturally hypo- allergenic. Products made from 100% alpaca tend to be fairly pricey, most are blended with wool or synthetic fibers. Currently for sale at the farm or on line are alpaca socks and ‘PacaBuddy’alpaca toys bought from another small producer. Gsell is contemplating buying a loom and weaving a rug, as the fiber is so durable.
If you want an alpaca of your very own, be warned that they are extremely herd oriented and must have company, so you’ll need at least two. Prices range from $1,000 well up into triple digits. According to Abram, the vast majority of alpacas in North America are registered with the Alpaca Registry, Inc. which protects the gene pool, preventing cross-breeding with other camelids. The registry is not open to imported alpacas.
Gsell and her husband have farmed and lived on the 290 acres since 1974. They purchased it in 1994 from the estate of Wilbur Hubbard, who had put the land in a conservation easement; there are three houses allowed on the property. In addition to the alpacas, there are a hundred head of Holstein dairy cows and beef cattle, along with crops of corn, soybeans, hay, straw, wheat and barley. Gsell hopes to keep it as a family farm for generations to come.
Tag Along Alpacas welcome visitors, by appointment. A highly recommended treat for all ages.
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