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Longtime alpaca lover Karen Rader started an alpaca farm

May 25, 2019

HARVEY’S LAKE, Pa. (AP) — Karen Rader has always loved alpacas and after visiting Falls Edge Farm in Benton, she decided to start an alpaca farm.

She began Pine Valley Alpacas farm in Lake Twp. with her husband, Dan, in 2015 with six alpacas. They now have 17 alpacas and they bought some from Falls Edge Farm.

Recently, Georgia resident Kyle O’Rourke came to their farm with his partner, Adam Stain, to shear their 17 alpacas along with three alpacas owned by Rader’s protege Kelly Fleming of Factoryville.

The alpacas are sheared once a year. After each one was sheared, Rader quickly gathered the luxurious fiber, which she said she uses to make things like yarn, dryer balls, felted soap and nesting balls. People also like to use alpaca fiber to stuff pillows, she said.

She sells her alpaca items at area festivals and to people who find her through word of mouth. She also sells alpaca socks, sweaters and blankets that she does not make herself but orders.

“I make my own yarn. I knit, but mostly hats, fingerless gloves and scarves,” she said. “I spin yarn to sell.”

Alpaca fiber has seen a greater demand over wool in the textile and fashion industries because it’s a natural fiber without a scratchy texture that makes clothing warm, soft and comfortable.

According to the Alpaca Owners Association, people in many countries call alpacas “the world’s finest livestock.” The textiles produced from their fleeces are in demand at fashion centers in New York, Paris, Milan and Tokyo, and profit opportunities are available to alpaca breeders.

Rader said the fiber is unique because it’s hollow and better insulated. It doesn’t contain lanolin like wool so it’s soft, hypoallergenic and has no “itch factor,” she said.

After Rader first brought alpacas home, she started going to shows to learn more about making things with their fiber.

“Someone taught me how to spin and I just started learning how to do things and loving it,” she said. “When I went to alpaca shows, I got to learn about bigger farms in the area and I started breeding a few. I would find some deals and I started accumulating more alpacas.”

Now, Rader said she sees such a big demand for alpaca items that she sometimes runs out of fiber. She often sells to people who say they want to support local artists and crafters.

“People really want the handmade stuff,” she said. “I often get special requests especially around Christmas. That is my highest selling point. Now, I am making stuff for next fall and hoping I have enough.”

Fleming also assisted in gathering the fiber after O’Rourke sheared the alpacas. She bought one of Rader’s alpacas and two others and is just starting to learn more about making things with the fiber.

“I’ve only had them for a few months now,” Fleming said. “Karen is my mentor. She gets the first year’s batch and we’ll take it from there. I’m here to learn.”

O’Rourke has been shearing alpacas for 11 years. He learned his trade after his parents paid for him to go to a seminar at Magical Farms in Ohio, the largest alpaca farm in the country.

“I was so intrigued by it that I drove up the following weekend for the advanced seminar,” he said.

After he learned his trade in 2008, he said he immediately had 500 alpacas ready to be sheared. He now travels around to different states from March to May to shear alpacas before the weather gets warm.

“The animals don’t like it but it has to happen because they’re going to hate the heat more,” he said.

Alpacas can be beneficial not only for small business owners, but O’Rourke said big businesses like Walmart like to promote the animals as well.

“You go to Walmart on any given holiday, you are going to see an alpaca or llama advertising that holiday,” he said.

Sweet Valley country store sells alpaca items

Amid their growing popularity, another alpaca business opened in Sweet Valley in 2015.

Rebecca Mooney, who owns Harvest Moon Country Store with her husband, Dan, said they formerly owned 16 alpacas in Lehman Twp. When the opportunity arose to open a store on Route 118 in Sweet Valley in 2015, they downsized to six alpacas.

Their store is open Saturdays and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and by appointment, and they sell unique items including alpaca accessories like socks, hats and gloves and items made from alpaca fiber like teddy bears.

The teddy bears are made from fiber from other alpacas, but yarn and shoe inserts are made with fiber from their alpacas, Mooney said.

The biggest demand for alpaca socks come around Christmas time because of their warmth, she said. Thick socks made from alpaca fiber cost $25.

“Hunters like them because they are super warm,” she said. “It is the warmest, softest fiber.”

Chris Stitzel of Fleetville recently sheared their six alpacas. It cost $30 to shear each alpaca, Mooney said.

Mooney said alpacas are not “real high maintenance” and they have two guard dogs to watch and protect them.

Alpacas, which are species of the South American camelid, are a “huge industry” in South America, Mooney said.

According to the Alpaca Owners Association, alpacas still represent the primary source of income for thousands of South Americans. Today, wealth as a result of livestock ownership is not as common, but opportunities exist for profitable farms and ranches. Some owners say tending to a herd of alpacas can be a rewarding lifestyle.

Mooney said she doesn’t own alpacas to make tons of money.

“We’re doing it because we love the animals,” she said.

Miss Belle an attraction at the Lands at Hillside Farms

One of the big attractions at the Lands at Hillside Farms in Kingston Twp. is an alpaca named Miss Belle.

People are very interested in seeing the alpaca, who is often mistaken for a llama, said barn manager Sierra Krohnemann.

“She is one of our most loved animals here,” she said.

Miss Belle was recently sheared and her “summer cut” keeps her cool for the summer months, Krohnemann said.

Visitors “love her silly haircut that she gets for the summer especially and she is very gentle when it comes to being hand-fed,” she said

Krohnemann said they are in the process of donating her fiber to “someone who will hopefully collaborate with us and show us a demonstration on how to spin fibers and such.”

A mercantile store at the Lands at Hillside Farms sells alpaca socks, hats and gloves that are extremely popular items, said Suzanne Kapral, director of marketing and development.

Krohnemann said she thinks alpacas are popular because they are different.

Miss Belle stands out in her paddock as she is housed with sheep and occasionally a few goats, she said.

“She stands high above them and has a very calm demeanor,” Krohnemann said. “Her haircut is also very unique. Most people understand what a goat or a sheep is and have seen many in their lifetimes, but not many get to experience alpacas.”

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Information from: The Citizens’ Voice, http://www.citizensvoice.com

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