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By Rich Fiorucci
Special to The SUN
On Sept. 29 and 30, alpaca breeders from across the United States and Canada will invite the public to come to their farm or ranch to meet their alpacas and learn more about these inquisitive, unique animals, the luxury fiber they produce and why the alpaca business is perfect for environmentally conscious individuals.
From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Hummin’ Heaven Ranch will welcome guests to learn more about these inquisitive and unique animals. Learn the process from raw fiber to finished products, all free!
Hummin’ Heaven Ranch is located at 2112 Roberts Place, 11 miles south on U.S. 84, right at mile marker 17 (Darci Place), right on Roberts Place. The road ends in the ranch driveway.
Alpacas, cousins to the llama, are beautiful, intelligent animals native to the Andean mountain range of South America, particularly Peru, Bolivia and Chile. The United States first commercially imported alpacas in 1984. There are now over 160,000 ARI (Alpaca Registry, Inc.) registered alpacas in North America.
There are two types of alpacas in the United States today. Although almost physically identical, what distinguishes the two types of alpacas is their fiber. The Huacaya is the more common of the two and has a fluffy, extremely fine coat. The Suri is the rarer of the two and has fiber that is silky and resembles pencil locks.
Adult alpacas stand at approximately 36 inches at the withers and generally weigh between 150 and 200 pounds. They do not have horns, hooves, claws or incisors. Alpacas are alert, intelligent, curious and predictable. Social animals that seek companionship, they communicate most commonly by softly humming.
About alpaca fiber
Alpacas are shorn, without harm, every 12 to 18 months. They produce five to 10 pounds of luxurious fiber. Long ago, alpaca fiber was reserved for royalty. Today it is purchased in its raw fleece form by hand spinners and fiber artists. Knitters buy it as yarn.
Because of its soft texture, alpaca fiber is sometimes compared to cashmere. Making the fiber even more coveted, it has the luster of silk. Alpaca is just as warm as, yet one-third the weight of wool. It comes in 22 natural colors, yet can be dyed any desired shade.
Containing no lanolin, alpaca fiber is also naturally hypoallergenic. Most people who are sensitive to wool find that they can wear alpaca without the itching or irritation they feel from wool because alpaca fiber is smooth. Additional performance characteristics include: stretch, water repellency and odor reduction. For travelers, clothing made from alpaca is desirable because it is wrinkle resistant.
Alpacas come in 22 natural colors, but they are all green.
Sensitive to their environment in every aspect, alpacas have soft, padded feet instead of hooves and can leave even the most delicate terrain undamaged. Damage to topsoil decreases long-term soil fertility and in the process, the soil is eroded and weed invasion is encouraged.
Alpacas prefer to eat tender grasses, which they do not pull up by the roots. Lacking upper teeth, alpacas “cut” the grass with their bottom teeth and upper palate. This vegetation cutting encourages the plants’ growth. Because they are modified ruminants with a three-compartment stomach, alpacas convert grass and hay to energy very efficiently, and stop eating when they are full, further preserving the landscape on which they live.
However, alpacas do not mind eating brush, fallen leaves and other “undesirable” vegetation, leaving the “good stuff” for species that do not have the stomach to digest such roughage.
Alpacas’ pellet-like droppings are PH balanced and an excellent, natural, slow release, low odor fertilizer. This rich fertilizer is perfect for growing fruits and vegetables. Because alpacas consolidate their feces in one or two communal spots in the pasture, it is easy to collect and compost, and the spread of parasites is controlled.
While alpacas are environmentally friendly, and even beneficial to the land, what makes them even more “green” is the fiber they produce. No chemicals are employed either during feeding or during the industrial production of alpaca fleece into fiber. If dying is desired, only 20 percent of a normal dye quantity is required.
All fiber from an alpaca can be used. Even the fiber from the lower legs, belly, neck, etc., is being used for things such as natural eek mats to be placed around trees. Alpaca fiber is biodegradable.
Alpacas require no insecticides, herbicides and fertilizers, which pollute the groundwater.
Headquartered in Nashville, Tenn., the Alpaca Owners and Breeders Association (AOBA) serves to facilitate the expansion of a strong and sustainable alpaca industry through the growth and development of the national herd and its products. Since AOBA’s formation in 1988, its membership has grown steadily to more than 4,000 members with over 160,000 registered alpacas in North America.
To find out more about National Alpaca Farm Days, visit www.NationalAlpacaFarmDays.com.