Archive for Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Not exactly shear delight

New Zealanders shave valuable fiber from Tonganoxie couple’s alpacas

April 12, 2006

Normally the barn is a haven.

But Saturday evening, the rural Tonganoxie barn was a place the alpaca didn't want to be.

It was shearing time.

Two shearers from New Zealand had scheduled a stop at the rural home of Bruce and Macel Koerth.

In less than three hours, the men sheared six of the Koerth's eight alpacas as well as eight alpacas from each of two Leavenworth County farms, and one llama.

It was a hectic operation -- and clearly it was one the alpacas didn't appreciate.

Using a sort of block and tackle system, the shearers tied the alpacas' front legs and hind legs together, then stretched the animals to the floor.

The alpaca responded by making various sounds, depending on the animal. For some it was a soft human-like moan. For others it was a high-pitched bleating. And for one, it wasn't the sound that was noticeable, but the stoic silence.

Within minutes, the electric shears would lift a 4-inch-thick layer of fiber from the alpaca's body. As the shearers worked, alpaca owners stayed close, filling plastic trash bags with the freshly shorn fiber.

They also collected the shorter fibers shaved from the alpacas' legs, neck and head. When done, only a pompon of fiber remained on the animals -- at the top of their heads -- hinting of the furry creatures they were, and which they will be again.

At their farm, Kaw Valley Alpacas, the Koerths raise Huacaya alpaca, which Macel Koerth said, have a soft and cuddly "teddy bear look."

The fibers shorn Saturday night will sell for $3 to $8 an ounce, Koerth said. She said it's possible to get about 32 pounds of fiber from six animals.

Koerth said the shearers will be in the United States for about two months, traveling to various alpaca farms before returning to New Zealand.

The work the other night kept everyone hopping.

When asked how many people helped with the work, Koerth laughed and said, "Not enough."

Koerth said she became interested in raising alpaca several years ago, when she lived in Denver and saw a television commercial about the animals. Two years ago, she and her husband bought their first alpaca.

It's not an inexpensive business to get into.

An average-quality female will sell for about $15,000, Koerth said. If she's pregnant, the price can go up to about $20,000.

"If you're going to do this you really need to be committed," Koerth said. "This is nothing you would do on a whim."

Obviously with selling prices like that, the money-making ability isn't from the selling the fiber -- it's from building a high-quality herd, selling the animals and charging stud fees.

Koerth smiles as she says how much she loves her alpacas.

"They're so cute," Koerth said. "I think they are the most beautiful animals I've ever seen."

And she readily admits, she spoils them, giving them treats morning and evening.

"When I go down in the evening, I'll just put down a chair and watch them eat," Koerth said.

And though the alpaca know she carries treats in her pockets, they don't get too close.

"They will usually stay a human arm length away," Koerth said.

The animals don't take a lot of maintenance on a day-to-day basis, she said. There's the routine work, the monthly worming medication, trimming the toenails and weighing.

Because Koerth works from home as a corporate trainer for medical clinical software, she's usually around to keep an eye on the alpacas. She said her husband, Bruce, recertifies airport security screening personnel.

Bruce, a 1965 graduate of Tonganoxie High School, is the son of Gus and Althea Koerth, Tonganoxie.

To market their animals, the Koerths take them to alpaca shows. And they advertise on their Web site:

And, as their herd consists of four females and two males, the Koerths are on the lookout for other alpacas to breed theirs with. Koerth said she plans to take Prima Donna, their bay black award-winning female, to Colorado this summer for breeding.

The sire, whose name is "The Reverend Mr. Black," is a true black alpaca.

For a fee of about $2,500, Prima Donna will stay at the Colorado farm for 60 days for breeding. After a progesterone test and ultrasound indicate pregnancy, she'll come home for the rest of her 11-month gestation.

Koerth said she hopes the baby takes on both parents' traits, particularly the father's.

"He's gorgeous," Koerth said of the sire. "Oh, I can't wait to see that baby."

And then, the Koerths will have another alpaca to admire.

Koerth gestured toward her two male alpacas, Loverboy and Atilla both white alpacas about 3 years old.

"Look at those faces," Koerth said. "How can you not fall in love."

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