Alpacas are quiet, gentle and curious animals, slightly smaller than their camelid cousin, the llama. Indigenous to the Andes of South America, these herd animals graze on pasture grass or hay. Fleece colors range from white and light fawn to brown, mahogany, rose gray, silver, and black, and many shades in between.
Having never owned lifestock before, we carefully considered the implications of getting involved in the alpaca business. We looked beyond the doe-eyes and the cute babies to the business model and the daily tasks, and agreed that the 'alpaca lifestyle' appealed to us on multiple levels.
Our two-year search for farm property was rewarded! We purchased
our farm in Eugene,
Oregon, just 35 miles from Mike's birthplace of Oakridge. We readied the 1890s-era barn and pens, and after boarding our alpacas for three years at two mentor farms, we transported them to their new home. See photos and notes of our beginnings on our blog. And for more recent notes and updates, visit our FaceBook page.
Our on-site Farm Store Boutique, A Spinner's Barn, showcases yarn and items made from our own alpacas' fleece as well as from other local farms' bounty. Oringal art for sale by Plein Air Painters of Lane County graces the walls. Our Farm and Gift Shop are open most Friday afternoons and Saturdays, and always by appointment, so please call or email to make sure we're available Monday-Thursdays. Throughout the year, we schedule Open Farm Days, and also host school groups, senior residents, foreign students, families, and other visitors to come enjoy our "living postcard."
Alpacas are fleece animals — that is the harvest of our farming business. Aragon Alpacas began breeding toward fineness of dark-colored fleece, but for hand-spinning, we recognize that light colors are very dyeable and desirable, too. And Nature has a way of surprising us!
Shearing season produces a bounty of fleece for processing and for sale to artisans. A few fleeces will be skirted for shows, others sorted for spinning. Raw fiber is desired by hand-spinners or it may be sent to a mini-mill for machine-processing into roving, batts, or yarn. Small mills are often run by other alpaca owners, so the fiber is in skilled hands. There is also a few fiber co-ops in North America to promote this home-grown resource.
For the first time, the Black Sheep Gathering's Wool Show & Sale accepted alpaca fleeces to be evaluated with hand-spinning in mind, and we entered several of ours.
A Spin-Off is a simple and easy way to get an expert spinner's objective evaluation of our fleeces. Again this year, select fleeces will be entered in the Alpaca Association of Western Oregon's Spin-Off; winners will be displayed at the 2016 Oregon Flock & Fiber Festival. This a valuable way to tell how well our breeding progam and herd management is doing. We are awaiting the spinners' decisions!
The alpaca industry is so new in the United States that owners and veterinarians are continually learning and sharing information in our literal grass-roots network. The sole purpose of groups such as the North West Camelid Foundation is to fund research for these unique animals.
Alpacas were declared "livestock" by the U.S. government in 2008, further enhancing their asset value. Come visit us if you are near Eugene, Oregon. Or search online to find farms in your area and go meet alpacas for yourself.