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Alpaca - Local farm welcomes visitors to learn about exotic animals

May 18, 2001

Alpaca - Local farm welcomes visitors to learn about exotic animals



By KATE COLEMAN

katec@herald-mail.com

Children can get hands-on experience with alpacas


Ann and Bert Kramer contacted Jeff Semler, extension educator, Maryland Cooperative Extension, Washington County, to offer to help with student 4-H projects.

Thirteen kids, seven girls and four boys, 8 to 14 years old, are involved - more than expected or hoped for, Semler said. 4-H volunteer Sue Hall helps guide the children.

"The Kramers are more than hospitable. They go the extra mile every time we're there," Semler says.

The 4-H'ers will have eight two-hour sessions at Annapaca Farm. They each have "adopted" an alpaca. The kids have done research on the animals and are working with them - grooming and learning how to care for them.

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They also are required to spend an additional two hours at the farm, doing chores, forking dung, learning what it takes to operate such a place. Ann Kramer gave them some fleece. They will "pick" it, removing hay and other debris, and she will teach them to spin.

The 4-H'ers and the alpacas will be part of a demonstration at Ag Expo, Aug. 4 from 10 a.m. to noon, Semler says.



Ah, a day in the Washington County countryside ... the wide open sky, rolling green pastures, grazing animals.

continued

There are horses, cattle, sheep.

Alpacas?

Wait a minute! Those are the foothills of the Allegheny mountains on the horizon - not the Andes.

What's going on here?

It's Annapaca Farm, home to Ann and Bert Kramer and 35 alpacas - although that count will change as more "crias" - that's Spanish for babies - are born. There will be a total of 12 little ones when this year's expectant females all have given birth.

What are alpacas? Members of the camelid family, they are related to camels, llamas, vicunas and guanacos, according to Ann Kramer.

Alpacas, domesticated for more than 5,000 years, played a central role in the ancient culture of the Incas in South America, according to a Alpaca Owners and Breeders Association brochure.

Why alpacas? Alpacas are bred for their fleece - soft cashmere-like fiber that's warmer, lighter and stronger than wool, according to the association. There are two types of alpacas. Huacaya have fleece with a "teddy-bear look," Ann Kramer says. The fleece of Suri alpacas has a different texture: It is longer and silkier.

Why alpacas? The Kramers wanted something to keep their pastures groomed. They moved to their Washington County farm from Darnestown, Md., in Montgomery County last July. They didn't want cattle or sheep or goats, Ann Kramer says. She considered llamas, and then her son sent her a picture of an alpaca.

"They're just so cute," she says.

There is something Muppet-like about the alpacas. They have huge brown eyes, and there seems to be a perpetual grin on their petite muzzles. Alpacas grow to about 36 inches at the withers - the highest part of the animal, between the shoulder blades. They weigh about 150 pounds.

Three to eight pounds of fleece will be sheared from each one. The fleece of the Suri alpacas weighs more than that of the Huacayas.

Alpacas don't have hooves - they have two toes on each foot, and their toenails need to be trimmed. They are very strong - not delicate, Ann Kramer says. Their expected lifespan is 20 to 25 years.

Alpacas are very environmentally friendly and light on the land, Kramer says. They don't tear up the pastures, she explains. And they are neat: They share communal dung piles, depositing manure in only a few spots - not all over the place.

The Kramers and their alpacas have gone way beyond original intentions of four-legged lawn mowers. For the cost of an alpaca, they could have afforded a lawn service for a long time, Ann Kramer laughs. A bred female - gestation is 11 months - costs about $16,000. Although one alpaca recently brought $226,000 at auction, a young male good enough to be considered a potential herd sire can be purchased for about $8,000.

The Kramers started with six alpacas - four females, one male and one gelding or castrated male. Alpacas are herd animals, Ann Kramer says.

"You can't have one," she says.

They now have 17 alpacas, and there are 18 boarders. A dozen of those - with more babies coming - belong to Pat and Lewis Boddie, who live in a house at Annapaca.

At shows, alpacas are judged on conformation and their fleece - for its "crimp" or wave, fineness and density, according to Ann Kramer. A little shop at Annapaca farm features sweaters and ponchos, hats, slippers and toys. Some of the items are made from fleece - from alpacas and their South American cousins.

Ann Kramer cards the fleece, preparing it for spinning. Then she spins it.

It takes about a pound of fleece to make a sweater.

The Kramers welcome visitors to Annapaca Farm, but appreciate a phone call in advance. The number is 301-824-2840.

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