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By Jimmie Earls
Sun Staff Writer
When it comes to raising livestock in Kentucky, one thinks primarily of horses, cattle, sheep and pigs. But few people know that Kentucky is fast becoming known as a place to raise alpacas.
Two types of alpaca are raised for their fleece. The fleece of the huacaya breed has a tight crimp, similar to that of merino sheep, while the suri breed is more like a dreadlock style. Alpaca fleece is warmer than sheep wool and it contains no lanolin, which makes it hypoallergenic, and it also maintains its elasticity better than wool.
Farmers have dabbled with raising exotic animals in the past, most notably ostriches and emus. With the growing popularity of alpaca, the Kentucky Alpaca Association and the Alpaca Owners and Breeders Association are taking an active role in maintaining the integrity of the trade.
“They spend over two million dollars a year to market this industry,” said Todd Allen, co-owner of Maple Hill Manor in Springfield. “Unfortunately, that’s not what the emu and ostrich farmers had.
Allen states that North America recently exceeded over 100,000 head of alpaca. The importation of the animals from South America has been closed since 1998 in an effort to maintain the value of the breed.
Allen and Tyler Horton have been raising alpacas and llamas for seven years.
“We were one of the first ten farms in Kentucky to raise alpacas,” added Allen. “There are now over 90 members of the Kentucky Alpaca Association, that’s a very promising sign.”
Kentucky is becoming a place many alpaca breeders are interested in, even though it’s not the ideal climate for the animals. Since they produce a lot of fleece, extra care must be taken during the summer to keep them cool.
“Alpacas are growing in popularity and more farms are looking to diversify,” added Allen. “It’s something different, it’s very family-oriented, and children feel comfortable around them. Although there’s a steep initial investment, there are a variety of ways to make money without having to kill the animal.”
Allen adds that aside from raising alpacas for their fleece, the animals can be used for breeding and can command generous stud fees for championship-quality stock. Stud fees can range from $1,000 up to $10,000 based on the quality of the animal. Sires that have produced champion offspring can fetch an even higher fee.
Maple Hill Manor also serves as a bed and breakfast. Each guest room features alpaca products like robes, blankets and house slippers. The farm also features a gift shop where customers can buy additional alpaca products such as scarves, hats and pillows.
Kentucky also hosts an annual alpaca show where breeders can show their best stock. Each state surrounding Kentucky also hosts an alpaca show, making the region an ideal place for breeders across the country.
Shawn and Lori Malloy recently moved to Springfield from Gorham, Maine to start up Sunshine Alpacas of Kentucky. They raise suri alpacas along with angora rabbits. Lori is a former postmaster and Shawn is a former vice-president for Jotul, a manufacturer of stoves and fireplaces. The Malloys were looking for a warmer place to live and a more central location to increase their potential market.
“It's one of the top states for family farms in the country,” said Shawn Malloy. “We're within a 600 mile radius of 48 percent of the country's populous. I looked at Carlyle, Paris, Winchester, Berea, all the way to Glasgow and Newcastle. With Springfield being a small agricultural town, it really met our needs.”
The Malloys also operate Flaggy Meadow Fiber Works, a mill that processes fiber from across the country. They take the raw fiber and turn it into custom yarn for their customers, who in turn use it to make products to sell in gift shops. End products include rugs, socks, sweaters and hats. They hope to work with local weavers and artisans to produce products proudly made in Kentucky.
For those looking to get started in alpaca raising, start up costs depend upon whether the investor wants to raise breeding stock or fiber stock.
“For fiber stock, males start out around $400-500 each,” said Allen. “That is mostly for people interested in raising them as pets and harvesting the fleece. People interested in generating an income, typically will be interested in buying a breeding pair, which can start out around $5,000 based on the quality.”