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Alpacas are more than a hobby for Spauldings

By Janet Kubat Willette

jkubat@agrinews.com

DODGE CENTER, Minn. — Cole leaves the herd and walks primly toward the gate to check out the approaching stranger.

The 3-year-old male Suri alpaca is the farm’s mascot, explains Sandy Spaulding, as Cole stands at the gate waiting for attention.

They don’t like being touched on the head, Sandy says, because they fear they will be struck. They prefer a nice neck rub, she said, demonstrating by running her hand along Cole’s neck.

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Sandy and her husband, Ray, have raised alpacas since 1998, starting with three pregnant females and one male.

Since then, they’ve moved from the hills northeast of Rochester to a larger acreage north of Dodge Center.

The move afforded them more room for their growing alpaca herd, which now numbers 28, and the ability to raise their own hay.

Alpacas are selective eaters, Sandy said. They are fed a diet of grass and grass hay along with a mixture of oats, cracked corn, molasses, vitamins and minerals.

They love alfalfa, she said, but it has to be strictly rationed because they don’t know when to stop.

Their favorite grasses are orchard, timothy and brome, Ray said.

Sandy does chores most often at R & S Hillside Alpacas. She wheels her wheelbarrow through the gates, scoops up the manure, which is all left in one pile in the pen, and fills the water tanks.

She throws hay into the bunks and takes time to talk to and pet the alpacas.

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The couple decided to raise the rare Suri alpacas for several reasons, Sandy said.

They are disease-resistant, easy to handle and require little care. They are also profitable.

Alpaca fiber is shorn annually and it’s considered one of the most luxurious fibers in the world, Sandy said. Suri fiber, which has 22 natural colors, sells for as much as $5 to $6 per ounce.

An alpaca produces four pounds to eight pounds of fiber each year, enough to create four to eight silky-feeling sweaters, she added.

The Spaudlings sell sweaters, scarves, hats, mittens, gloves, socks, Teddy bears and other items made from alpaca fiber in a farm gift shop.

Items for sale range from a $5 alpaca cookie cutter to a $150 sweater.

Registered alpacas are also sought for breeding stock, Sandy said.

Females are transported to other farms for breeding with desirable males and a breeding fee charged.

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Artificial insemination isn’t used, as alpacas have induced ovulation, Ray said.

The couple declined to mention animal values, but they said their operation is an investment, not a hobby.

To safeguard their investment, they installed roughly eight-foot-tall fences to keep out deer.

Deer carry a viral worm that is deadly to the alpaca, Sandy said.

They worm their alpacas and trim their feet every 45 days. They administer vaccines annually.

Ray and Sandy do a lot of their own veterinary work because area veterinarians are often leery of the rare and valuable animals, they said.

Suri alpacas make up less than 1 percent of the world alpaca population, Sandy said, and only 18 percent of the total U.S. alpaca population.

Sandy enjoys working with the alpacas and says each has its own personality. Mothers who lose babies to death must see the cria unmoving in order to grieve and move on, she said. Each night, just as darkness begins to settle in, the alpacas run in their lots. The couple speculates it’s a way to warm up for the cold evening ahead.

In the spring, the Spaudlings expect five cria. Alpacas have an 111⁄2-month gestation and single births are predominant.

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