They're furry, funny and affectionate. Visit an Alpaca Saturday in PV
One Prescott Valley woman decided to start an alpaca farm eight years ago and bought one animal. Today, Wendy Dittbrenner is turning a profit on her 10-acre farm.
This weekend, the Peaceful Prairie Ranch, with its 28 mild-tempered animals, invites the public to celebrate Alpaca Farm Day with a free tour, spinning and weaving demonstrations, and the opportunity to mix it up with Shock Wave, Bolero, Starlight, and their friends.
Easy to raise, these intelligent creatures with their big brown eyes are gregarious and fun to be around. Cute as a button, 2-week-old Shock Wave prances around the yard with his mother and "aunties," all of whom take part in caring for the young alpaca baby.
Starlight, on the other hand, is with her mother in the pen with the "adolescent" females. She, too, is white like Shock Wave, and is 2 months old. Born during the night - very unusual for alpaca births, said Dittbrenner - the family calls her Flashlight as an inside joke.
"There were more flashlights present at her birth than stars," Dittbrenner said with a laugh.
The animals are shorn once a year, usually in May when the weather turns warm. Each animal generates five to 10 pounds of soft, luxurious fiber that is naturally hypoallergenic because it contains no lanolin. The fiber is smooth and not scratchy like wool. It is also water repellent, stretchy, and wrinkle-resistant.
Dittbrenner's alpaca fiber goes to the Alpaca Breeders of Arizona, a cooperative, where it is combined with other Arizona-grown alpaca fiber. After milling, the co-op processes the fiber into alpaca products such as yarn or socks.
Dittbrenner said she sells a lot of her fiber to local spinners and weavers, several of whom will be demonstrating their craft this weekend.
It took Dittbrenner seven years to show a profit, she said.
"It takes some years to grow a herd to the size where you can sell off offspring. The gestation time is 11-12 months. We now have 8-10 offspring born each year," Dittbrenner said. Ninety-five percent of births do not require assistance, she added.
Alpacas are indigenous to South America, but all of Dittbrenner's animals were born in the United States. All U.S. breeders register their animals with DNA tests and all have certificates.
"We know their parentage and lineage for many generations. When they are born, we send in a sample of their blood and that validates their parentage," Dittbrenner said.
Mostly bred in this country for their fiber, alpaca meat is part of the diet in South American countries. The animals are not used for packing or riding, so the meat is tender, unlike their cousins, the llamas.
Dittbrenner participates in the annual Southwest Regional Alpaca Show at the State Fairgrounds every year. One of the alpacas at her ranch took first place last year as a Black Color Champion. Another, Bolero, an adolescent male, is a rare appaloosa alpaca with a spotted appearance.
Dittbrenner said she has trained many of her alpacas to walk on a leash, or a lead rope. They are curious, friendly creatures that will approach visitors, but generally don't like to cuddle. They are low-maintenance, she said, even using a "command dung pile," which they all use to relieve themselves. It makes cleaning up so much easier, she said.
Gov. Janet Napolitano proclaimed Sept. 29 as Alpaca Farm Day in Arizona. To celebrate the day, the Peaceful Prairie Ranch is open to visitors on Saturday, from 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. and Sunday, Sept. 30, from 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
The ranch is located at 7375 Coyote Springs Rd., one-half mile north of Highway 89A just past the tree farm. Those seeking more information may call 848-0267.