July 2006

Visiting an Alpaca Ranch

Last month, members of my local guild (Marin Knitters' Guild) and I had the opportunity of a field trip to Alpaca Shire in Sonoma, California. It was a pleasant day and we all enjoyed sitting under an old Oak tree watching the alpacas and learning about them. When we visited the ranch, all the alpacas were sheared except the baby that was born about 2 weeks prior to our visit.

Alpaca Shire is a 2-acre ranch owned and operated by Vicki and Don Arns. They started their operation in 1985 with just one female llama. They now maintain a herd of 15-25 alpacas. Vicki explained a lot about alpacas. Following is a summary about them:

Alpacas are smaller relatives of llamas, which are members of the camel family. They stand at about two and a half to three feet at the shoulder. They are very gentle, friendly and social. Although they get along with other farm animals, they need a companion of their own kind. That is why a ranch should start with at least two alpacas.

If you ever have a chance to visit a ranch, remember not to reach out to the alpacas as you might do with any pet. Let them make the first contact. They might come forward, sniff you and if they blow softly into your face, blow back and become friends with them.

There are two different kinds of Alpaca, the Huacaya and the Suri. The Huacaya has a very soft and crimped-appearing puffy fleece, and the Suri has straight fleece. Suri yarn has a soft sheen to it and resembles silk, whereas the yarn made out of huacaya resembles mohair. Alpaca fleece is similar to wool, but lighter yet about 5 times warmer.

Alpaca fiber does not have the resiliency of wool but has a wonderful drape. If you want to use alpaca for a garment, make sure to make a large swatch, wash and let it dry, then see how it feels and if it is suitable for your project.

I took some pictures of the alpacas at Alpaca Shire. You can see their photos at:

For more information about Alpaca Shire, visit their website at:

And for more information about alpacas and their fleece, visit:

Nazanin S. Fard

Needlecraft University

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