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Sun, Aug. 25

Alpacas: furry, huggable investments <BR>

A friendly, furry farm animal with a high-dollar fleece is gaining popularity in Chino Valley and the tri-city area. The Alpaca is part of the camel and llama family and hails from the mountainous regions of the Andean Plateau in South America.

Review/Laura Flood

Friendly Alpacas come up to investigate the camera at the Singletree Farm.

Soft, Alpaca apparel and stuffed animals fill Hum on the Range Country Store, a boutique open to the public by appointment at the Singletree Farm Alpacas in Chino Valley, owned by Jack and Kathleen Baldwin. Call the Baldwins at 636-0682 to see their friendly Alpacas or browse in the store.

Alpacas have only been in America for 20 years, yet there are five farms in the Chino Valley and Paulden area, and numerous other ranches in Prescott, Prescott Valley and throughout Arizona.

The docile, furry little animal looks like a Teddy bear with a long neck. The Alpaca comes in 20 colors with solid and varied patterned coats. They grow to just a few feet high at the withers and weigh between 100 and 185 pounds, much lighter than young horses or calves. According to Alpaca owners in the area, the ease in handling Alpacas makes them popular among new livestock owners and both young and elderly people.

People know Alpacas to be very gentle, smart and quick to learn their names. They are easy keepers because each consume as little as a flake of grass hay twice a day. Clean up is a whiz because they do tiny droppings in the same area. The soft pads on the bottom of their feet are also gentle on a pasture of new grass.

Three Alpaca-raisers in Chino Valley are the Singletree Farm Alpacas in Chino Valley, owned by Jack and Kathleen Baldwin, the Sunshine Alpaca Ranch, owned by Tina and Eddy Thompson and a new farm owned by Gwen and Dwayne Doty.

The Paulden Alpaca-raisers are DJ's Wind Walker Alpacas owned by Doug and Jan Mauck, and the Au Alpaca Ranch owned by Allen and Marian Tripp.

The Au Ranch name in Paulden aptly describes the Alpaca as a "good as gold" investment. "Au" is the scientific abbreviation for gold. Their furry coat yields a fiber that extends all the way down their legs. The fiber gets spun or woven into a soft-as-cashmere sweater, shawl, hat or pair of mittens. Alpaca fleece is free of lanolin, so people who are allergic to lanolin in the sheep's wool can stay warm without sneezing or itching. Alpaca fleece sells for $2-$3 per ounce and its common to yield nine pounds from one animal.

People can buy these garments – once reserved for Incan royalty – at the Singletree Farm in Chino Valley. The Baldwins operate the Hum on the Range Country Store. Perhaps they hum as they work with their friendly, profitable livestock. The Baldwins sponsored their second annual Christmas Boutique where little Alpaca Teddy Bears sold for $35 dollars each. They also sell little rugs, Alpaca wall hangings, crafts and more. The Baldwins ask for a phone call before coming out to browse in the boutique or see their Alpacas. People can call them at 636-0682.

It's easy to immediately become endeared to the Alpacas. Kathleen Baldwin walks into a corral and gives a hug to "Living Legend," her new 16-month-old future stud. Further out in a pasture, the babies and mothers come up to nudge the camera and warmly receive attention from the reporter, a stranger.

"Of the two Alpaca breeds, we raise the Haucaya Alpacas, pronounced 'wah-ky-ah,'" Kathleen Baldwin said. "The Suri breed is rare and much more

expensive."

With 15 Alpacas they own and three boarders on their farm, the Baldwins have a busy program going. They belong to the Alpaca Owners and Breeders Association (AOBA) and the Alpaca Fiber Cooperative of North America (AFCNA) to which they pledge half of their annual fiber. They also show their stock and will participate in an upcoming show at Rawhide in Scottsdale on the March 6-7, which is free to the public. The Tripps of the AU Ranch in Paulden will also be taking their maiden female Alpaca named Charity to that show.

Although the Alpacas are economical to keep and yield a high-priced fleece, there is a sizable, initial investment in buying each quality Alpaca. Then a farm must build up a quality herd and a good reputation for other breeders to come make a purchase.

"A friend of mine yielded nine pounds from her male Alpaca," said Jan Mauck, of DJ's Windwalker Ranch. "Although we spent $15,000 for our investment and own seven Alpacas, we will make money in about five years."

Mauck described the fascinating scientific test done on Alpaca fleece to determine its quality.

"An electronic test is done to measure the micron count of fiber diameter," she said. "Between 20 and 30 is good and below 20 microns is a better, finer fiber."

Billie's Lady Godiva, owned by the Singletree, is selling for $12,000. She is likely to reproduce high-quality offspring during her 20-year productive life span.

"It is also necessary to breed with outside bloodlines," Mauck said. Inbreeding of any livestock is likely to produce negative traits that would ruin a bloodline. DJ's Windwalker Ranch recently sold a male Alpaca to some breeders in Colorado.

"This makes it fun to get to know other neighborhood Alpaca-raisers in the tri-city area and breeders out of state."

The Maucks also enjoy the intelligent personality of their Alpacas.

"If I throw the chain up over the gate without locking it, my male Alpaca flips the chain off," Jan Mauck laughed. She also enjoys taking the Alpacas for a walk and a change of scenery, although people don't use the Alpacas for packing like they do their larger llama cousins.

"They get exercise on their own," Mauck said. "They gallop around in their pasture and they are a sight to see when they jump off the ground with all four legs at the same time."

Alpaca-raisers may jump for joy when they take several pounds of fleece to the market or sell their high-quality offspring for thousands of dollars. At the end of a long day they can also count on a big, furry hug from their investment.

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