Alpaca Punch

Posted Sept. 20, 2008, at 12:27 a.m.

The nights are cool now, drawing the 15 alpacas out from their shelter each evening at Black Woods Farm. Unlike their native Peru, they could encounter a fox or a wandering moose on a chilly night in Maine, but the lure of colder temperatures wins out.

The alpacas will play and jump — the young ones “pronking,” or bouncing with straight legs. They communicate with each other by humming, a sound as if they’ve eaten a mouthful of bees.

“Last night was the first night they stayed outside all night,” co-owner Laura Osgood said last week. “They can handle the cold much better than the heat. They are perfect animals for Maine.”

Looking out over her blue-ribbon-winning herd, Osgood takes a moment to savor the woods, the fields and the grazing alpacas.

“This is the quiet side of life, the good side of life,” she said. “This is what we were looking for. A simple life.”

Laura, a former art teacher, and her husband, Scott, a Maine Game Warden and member of the 101st Air National Guard in Bangor, operate one of Maine’s more than 100 alpaca farms.

Scott said that when the couple initially went to the bank asking for $40,000 for

startup costs five years ago, “they laughed us out of the bank. But a week later, after they did their research on the profitability of alpaca, they called us with the approval.”

Although the prices for alpacas have remained fairly stable for the past 10 years — quality-bred females sell for $15,000 to $20,000 — demand has risen because of the many tax benefits of alpaca ownership, such as depreciation and capital gains.

Alpacas, considered livestock, are tax-deductible, as are farm development and ongoing facility and animal maintenance, according to the Maine Alpaca Association.

This means alpaca purchases up to $250,000 can be written off in the year they were purchased. Shelter outlay is minimal, and the cost of feeding one adult alpaca is only about $200 a year, or about $4 a week.

With a sound business plan and the high value of alpacas, a Maine alpaca breeder can generate substantial income on a minimal number of acres — as many as eight alpacas per acre.

Grown exclusively for their fine, cashmerelike fiber, the breeding stock on the Osgoods’ farm is top-notch, taking first-place trophies home from impressive New England shows. While sheep’s wool sells for about $4 a pound, alpaca fiber runs about $40 a pound.

The Osgoods have been raising alpacas for five years and are in their second year of operating an on-farm store carrying yarn and alpaca products.

“Initially, I was very concerned about the financial aspects,” Scott Osgood admitted. “To make the investment to start up is a huge risk.”

“But if you don’t dare to dream, you will never be successful,” his wife countered.

After careful research, Scott was converted. “This is a renewable resource,” he said. “Their raw fiber pays for their upkeep. They are very efficient. What sets alpacas apart from most livestock is that the end product is not meat.”

The couple were also impressed that alpacas are gentle on the land — they have two toenails and pads, rather than hooves.

The Osgoods learned the alpaca business quickly. “There were a lot of stumbling blocks,” Scott said. “But we learned as we went along and streamlined our process that way. It turns out they are easy to care for with minimal upkeep. They are intelligent to the point that it almost seems an understatement to say they are curious.”

A professional shearer from New Hampshire does a circuit in Maine that includes the Osgood farm and, using a Maine fiber mill, all the fiber is turned into yarn.

Inside the farm store, the yarn — in hues of warm brown, tan, cream or gray — is offered for sale. “You can take each skein out and match it with the animal in the pasture,” she said.

Although Scott admits that visiting the alpacas in the pasture or barn is a definite stress reliever, he emphasizes that the alpacas are a business. “We are in this to make money.” He said the more alpaca farms that are started, the better for his farm, creating an industry infrastructure with depth.

“This is the third year that the farm is my full-time support,” Laura said.

Scott said the future is even rosier. By careful breeding, the couple are trying to improve on the quality of their fleece, and it’s working. Two of their stud males have won blue ribbons in the past year for their exquisite fleece.

“I would really recommend alpaca farming,” Scott said. “It is definitely worthwhile. We have already achieved our short-term goals rather quickly.”

Maine Alpaca Open Farm weekend will be Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 27 and 28, and more than 35 farms will open for education, tours and alpaca viewing. A list of participating farms can be found at www.mainealpacafarms.com.

A new alpaca yarn available this year at Black Woods Farm in Cherryfield is a tweed blend between the fleece of Tavarro (left) and Lyra.

This is the award-winning fleece of Polaris, a male alpaca at Black Woods Farm.

Huacaya alpacas such as those at Black Woods Farm in Cherryfield are known for their wavy or crimped fleece. From left are Quickpic, Ranger, Pearl and Lunaberry.

Alpaca Punch

These curious creatures are cute, soft, cuddly — but they wield profit power for a Cherryfield farm

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