Thursday, November 3, 2011
The Alpaca Experience
Photo by Anne Williamson - from Topeka Capital Journal, 2011
The sixth annual Mid-America Alpaca show was held in Topeka last weekend. Free admission. Why not go, I asked myself. I have seen an alpaca or two in my day, but I had never seen several hundred alpacas in one place. They are gentle and strange creatures with impossibly large eyes. They make a quiet mewing noise that is comforting the way a cat's purring is comforting. I wanted to put my hands on every one I saw but I restrained myself.
People and their alpacas traveled to Topeka from everywhere in the United States. Apparently, the fair is a big deal in the alpaca industry. I spoke to several people. I was even invited to visit an alpaca ranch in Minnesota. They kept throwing in enticements: wood burning stove in the guest house; timber wolves; Minnesota scenery; lots of alpacas. Visit anytime!
Some of the money raised by the fair goes to support veterinarian classes at state universities, including Kansas State. With only about 150,000 alpacas in the United States, there is not a common pool of veterinarian knowledge available, but that is changing.
Alpacas are not prolific breeders, so building a herd takes some time and a lot of money. A good breeding female costs several thousand dollars. Stud service from a male with highly prized wool is $2000. It is not an industry just any fool can afford to jump into with both feet and that is a good thing. The animals are so gentle that it would be an extreme tragedy for any alpaca to fall into the hands of an abusive or neglectful human being.
I also talked with a lady who has just started a not-for-profit business based on her alpacas. It is "Alpacas for Autism". It seems that by pairing alpacas and autistic children some sort of magic happens. She has a camp for children at her ranch. She is also in the process of establishing classes for fiber work (weaving, crochet, knitting), and marketing and entrepreneurship classes for families dealing with autism. What a brilliant idea.
Since the fair, I have been considering alpaca ranching as my second career. There are only a few years left before I retire. It seems it would be a fun and profitable endeavor. I could freely pet my own alpacas at any time of the day or night. Even if the entire herd stampeded me, I would likely live to tell of it. I would actually be a rancher, at long last. I would not have to worry about selling the animals for food as they are far more valuable as breeders and for their fiber. It would be so much fun when the mother alpacas had their babies. I could go to alpaca shows to sit around talking to people from far away places. Of course, that is just the dream. Reality would quite likely be vastly different. It might be so boring that I would be begging strangers to visit my alpaca ranch - any time, any time at all.