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Alpaca club a learning experience

September 12, 2006|by MARLO BARNHART

CLEAR SPRING - Millstone Manor looks like a typical farmette as one approaches and is greeted by two majestic Arabian horses who are always curious about visitors.

It's only on closer examination - when the other denizens make their appearance - that one knows this farm is a little different.

Sue Hull lives there with her husband, Tom, their two sons, Garrett, 10, and Aaron, 8, and the two aforementioned horses.

Then there are the alpacas - three breeding males, six females and five "fiber" males who are part of the 4-H Alpaca Club, a group that Hull teaches through the Maryland Cooperative Extension Service in Washington County.

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Alpacas are native to South America, close relatives of the llama and vicuna. All have wooly coats but the alpaca and vicuna are more prized, Hull said.

"On Thursday, I am hosting an open house at my farm at 14103 Rockdale Road from 6 to 7:30 p.m.," Hull said. "The purpose is to enroll new children in the alpaca club."

Beth Bubacz, extension educator, will be there to talk about the 4-H program, answer questions and take enrollment forms.

"We will be giving the children the opportunity to see the animals and learn a little about alpacas," Hull said.

While the club doesn't compete at Ag Expo, the members do train and show the animals, Hull said.

Begun six years ago, the alpaca club was supposed to be for just one year but it became so popular that it has continued and grown.

Members learn alpaca fiber usage beginning with cleaning, carding and spinning. Projects including weaving and felting in hands-on classes.

The alpaca club is open to all youth between ages 8 through 18. Hull and Diana Wilson are the teachers for the club, which meets the second Thursday of the month, either at the Maryland Cooperative Extension Office or at Hull's farm.

Extension agent Jeff Semler "got the club started and now Beth is working with it," Hull said.

An interior designer by profession, Hull is from the Pittsburgh area. While home with her first child, she read a newspaper article about alpaca fiber and realized she loved the idea of getting involved with the animals.

"Jeff hooked me up with Ann Kramer in Smithsburg," Hull said. With one alpaca of her own, Hull boarded him at Kramer's Annapaca Farm.

The Hull family moved to the Rockdale Road farm three years ago. Sue Hull still does some interior designing but these days, she mostly is involved in alpaca fiber.

"I have a business partner in Frederick, Kathy Stumpf, and we have formed Paca Pouches," Hull said.

They buy alpaca fiber, process it in huge batches and then finish it into woven blankets, within the United States.

For more information on the open house or the 4-H alpaca club, call Bubacz at 301-791-1304.

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