Alpacas on the loose
October 8, 2008
North Bend farm recently added 19th alpaca to its herd
From spinning fleece to birthing babies, the alpaca business is booming for the Clark family in North Bend. Their front yard, dubbed Clarkshire, is now home to 19 alpacas. The newest addition, Pippin, a little white alpaca with spindly legs and a pink nose, joined the Clarkshire herd Sept. 29.
Pippin stays close to his mother as she inspects the grass on the Clark’s lawn. Alpacas are great lawn mowers, but they also eat hay and pellets, said Alexandra Clark.
The Clark family transformed their yard into an alpaca haven in 2004, shortly after a flurry of moves. The family relocated from Seattle to Samoa in the South Pacific to Snoqualmie Pass to North Bend.
Once settled, they wanted something to fill their five-acre property. The solution found them when they saw some alpacas at the King County Fair in Enumclaw.
“I got a bee in my bonnet,” said Clark. “I wanted to get alpacas.”
After much research, the family bought two pregnant females. They dubbed their lot Clarkshire after watching the Lord of the Rings.
“We have a hobbit-sized tree out front,” said Clark’s daughter Kira. “A shire tree.”
Aside from feeding and cleaning up after, alpacas are low-maintenance creatures.
“The primary work is babies,” Clark said.
Alpacas gestate for 11.5 months and only need to wait three weeks before their next pregnancy. After buying a few more sires and dams, the Clarks had a farm on their hands. They hired a professional shearer to annually cut the alpaca’s fleece.
As the bags of fleece multiplied, Kira had the idea to turn it into gold — monetarily speaking.
While in Samoa, she had learned to knit. At age 13 and post-alpaca sheering season, Kira bought a spinning wheel and turned the fleece into yarn, which she then knitted into scarves, booties, headbands, purses and shawls. Kira used the profits from her sales to fill shoeboxes she sent to underprivileged children around the world through the Operation Christmas Child program.
Last year, she filled 100 boxes with dolls, hair accessories, school supplies and hygiene products. Her goal this year is 150 boxes.
Kira doesn’t fleece her customers, but she does make a profit. By selling 36-yards of fleece-yarn at $11 and scarves and shawls ranging from $22 to $60, she sold $130 worth of products at the family’s annual Alpaca Farm Day in September.
Alpaca fleece is lighter than wool and doesn’t have that itchy allergen called lanolin. To place an order, e-mail Kira at email@example.com.
Good fleece comes from good breeding. Breeders prefer offspring to have a finer fleece than their parents, so the mother and father’s fleece must both be of premium quality.
“People will ship animals across the country or across the state for breeding,” Clark said.
At annual alpaca competitions, owners enter their animals into contests. In May, one of their dams named Alleluja won a medal for best white coat.
Dams like Alleluja can sell for more than $24,000. Females are generally more expensive than males, but a top-end male can also break the bank.
Most of the alpacas at Clarkshire are dams, which are friendlier than sires, Clark said.
“They’ll let you pet them and kiss you,” she said. But, despite their fluffy fleece, alpacas are known for being aloof and shy of people.
Buying pet dams and sires costs between $150 and $1,000. People should buy alpacas in pairs because the animals become depressed when they don’t have company, Clark said.
There are three other alpaca farms in the area — Daisy Hill Alpaca, Panamichi’s Alpacas and Twin Peaks Alpacas. If she needs advice, Clark gives them a call.
“The people who do alpacas are nice and friendly,” she said.
To view Clarkshire alpacas photos and prices, visit http://www.alpacanation.com and type Clarkshire into the search bar.