Alpacas are low-maintenance livestock
Expectant alpaca "Tammy Wynette" shares a tender moment with her owner, Liz MacEachran, at Kilblaan Farm in Sharon. (APRIL GUILMET/Union Leader Correspondent)
Part of the Kilblaan Farm herd out for an afternoon romp. (APRIL GUILMET/Union Leader Correspondent)
NH alpaca farmsA sampling of the 30 New Hampshire farms registered with the New England Alpaca Owners and Breeders Association:
Acapella Alpaca Farm: 183 Silver Lake Road, Hollis, 465-6338.
Hampshire Highland Alpacas: 683 Milan Road, Milan, 448-2295.
Juniper Knoll Farm: 307 Bean Hill Road, Belmont, 267-5905.
Kilblaan Farm: 402 Spring Hill Road, Sharon, 924-6113
Kings Highway Alpacas: 108 Kings Highway, Middleton, 473-8341.
Purgatory Falls Alpaca Farm: 195 Purgatory Falls Road, Lyndeborough, 654-7690.
Sleeping Monk Farm: 116 Ashbury Road, New Ipswich, 878-2183.
For a complete list of farms, visit www.neaoba.org.
Tammy, one of the 32 alpacas living at Kilblaan Farm, was expected to give birth any moment, an occasion her owners, Liz and John MacEachran, hoped would be the start of successful days to come on their Sharon farm.
But fluctuations in the economy, along with an increasingly crowded barn, led the couple to put a temporary halt on their breeding program.
According to statistics provide by the New England Alpaca Owners and Breeders Association, the market for alpacas continues to be moderated by the effects of relatively slow herd growth - mostly due to the animal's slow reproduction rate.
In 2004, there were approximately 50,000 alpacas registered in the United States. Since then, the United States has banned the importation of alpacas, all but ending an influx from South America and protecting bloodlines of alpacas bred in the U.S.
The farms range in size, with Susan Nadler's farm, Powder House Alpacas, among the smaller ones.
"I purchased my first alpacas at very high prices compared to today's market," she said. "I could probably get the same animals for a quarter of that price today."
While the business presents ongoing challenges, such as finding good hay and overcoming a shortage of veterinary medicines manufactured specifically for alpacas, Nadler said she's found amazing support in the farming community.
Sandown resident Beverly Carpenter, owner of Owl Brook Alpacas, said she's been raising the animals for seven years, beginning around the time when the price of alpacas peaked.
Carpenter produces her own fleece products after the animals are sheared each spring, and she sells her yarn, hats, mittens and scarves online, at fairs and on site at the farm.
"I think the business and the industry is still strong but maybe not as strong as when it started," she said. "Animal sales are still happening in good fashion, but I think some folks have dropped process due to the economy - either due to feeding costs or high overhead."
"I love spending time with them as much as I can," she said. "We take them to nursing homes, parades and fairs and have many farm events here. But there are days that time is limited, and it seems I spend time with them only when caring and cleaning up after them."
Still, she's noticed a few changes to the industry in that short time period.
While Reczko enjoys spinning her own alpaca fiber, she says it would be too difficult to process the fleece from all 37 of her animals on her own.
Labors of love
Breeding the animals remains a significant part of Reczko's business, though she also sells her fleece directly to hand spinners or sends it to a local yarn manufacturer. She also contributes to the New England Alpaca Fiber Pool.
Prices for a show-quality adult alpaca easily can range into the thousands, while pet-quality animals can be purchased for several hundred dollars.
"Fortunately, these are animals that aren't very hard to take care of," Liz MacEachran said, noting that the daily care and feeding of her alpacas takes about 20 minutes each morning and another 20 minutes each night.
"Each one has its own personality," she said, noting that one of her alpacas has been known to do a little happy dance when dinner time is near. "It's pretty easy to fall in love with them."
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