Hard to get a straight answer from this alpaca. When asked how she felt about giving up her coat to share with bipeds, “Sassy” gives a haughty look and threatens to spit.
The rest of the herd behind her just grunts nervously.
It’s shearing day at Happy Valley Alpaca Farm, the business’ annual disrobing of their finely outfitted animals.
For about 20 years, owners Mike and Linda Gooch have called the area home and the alpacas their somewhat willing partners in trade. For room and board, the animals give up some of the finest materials for all sorts of clothing, from coats and hats to mittens, boots and scarves.
Mike Gooch said he retired three years ago but as the alpaca business has thrived, he seemed to be busier than ever.
“We wanted an active retirement,” Gooch says, overseeing the shearing.
“Sometimes you have to be careful what you ask for.”
Happy Valley Alpaca Farm offers year-round tours. Gooch says visitors sometimes stay for short, 30-minute visits or for up to three hours.
He says he’s looking to expand the business so local artists can display their alpaca-fueled creations, either selling to the farm outright or by consignment.
With the local and national economy still rebounding, Gooch says he’s seen a spike in sales from an unexpected source.
“We compost the manure, and that’s done really well,” he says.
“Our sales have tripled because everyone wants a garden now. It comes in pellet form, like rabbit manure.”
But for the most part, folks want to share in the shearing.
Three kinds of fur
On April 30, Armando Guzman and his son Alan put on quite a show, shearing the dozen alpacas at the farm. The finest fur, located on the alpacas’ torso, is sheared, separated and combed through, then shipped away for refinement before it comes back in bundles known as bumps.
The second finest fur, located mostly on the chest and neck, is long and good for scarves and hats.
The third quality of fur, Gooch says, usually gets thrown away but can be packed and used for pet beds because of its unusually light weight and warmth.
The Guzmans spend 15 to 18 minutes for a single shearing, a quick pace for a whole alpaca, Gooch says.
“It’s an art form to move that quickly,” he says. “I’ve seen a lot of butcher jobs.”
The warm winter and early spring mean the Gooches’ alpacas don’t have as much fur as they would in a colder winter.
But there’s always next year.
Oh, and some help on the way: Mike Gooch says there are alpaca babies coming to the Happy Valley farm this summer.
Reach Michael Dashiell at email@example.com.
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