It has become more and more common to spot some small, fleecy looking animals munching on grass in the fields around the Plateau. They are alpacas, sometimes known as a pasture poodle.
Alpaca farms are popping up all over the Plateau. Some have a few and others have more than 50.
The Plateau has a growing number and Washington state may have the most Alpaca farms in the country.
Susan Hanson, owner of Rainier Alpacas at 39702 218th Ave. SE outside of Enumclaw, raises alpacas for a living. She raises the animals for their fleece and has one of the top breeding programs in the area.
Hanson, along with Donna Paschen, owner of Grapevine Farm Alpacas at 30128 SE 402nd St, Janet O’Meara at 37213 West Lake Walker Dr. S.E and Rebecca Venn from Alpacas of Wintercreek at 3302 53rd Street SE near Lake Tapps, act as mentors for anyone interested in raising the camel cousins.
According to the Alpacas of Wintercreek website alpacas were “domesticated by the Incas over 5000 years ago and are among the most ancient of the world’s domestic animals.”
Found in their natural habitat of the Andes Mountains in southern Peru, Bolivia and Chile, alpacas have adapted to the Plateau remarkably well.
Hanson said alpacas have three stomachs, making them very efficient animals.
“They are easy on fences and are inexpensive to feed,” Hanson said. “I raise them, breed them, sheer them and teach people about them.”
The milling of the fleece from alpacas is a growing industry in the state and on the Plateau according to Hanson.
The fabric is used for socks, sweaters, scarves, gloves and hats. Clothing made from alpaca fleece is both warm and lightweight and includes everything from baby blankets to tuxedoes.
Paschen said farmers are breeding for “finer and finer fleece.”
Each farmer usually breeds for a certain color. Paschen raises gray and fawn colored alpacas, Hanson gray and O’Meara black. Silver, gray and white alpacas are very popular Hanson said.
Alpacas mothers carry the babies for 11 months
Paschen said the four women throw pasture parties to introduce people to the alpacas and have some fun.
O’Meara said she got into raising alpacas initially for the tax benefits, “and now I love the animals.”
Many of the alpaca farmers enter national shows and Paschen said entering shows help validate a farmer’s breeding program.
Susan Hanson said raising alpacas can be both profitable and a pleasure. Alpacas have helped Hanson’s 14-year-old son, Jack Hanson. She said her son is autistic and working with the alpacas each day is “very calming to him.”
Jack Hanson said a mother alpaca rejected one of her babies and he came out each day and took care of the baby.
“He’s like an alpaca whisperer,” Susan Hanson said. “He can always get them to come to him. They are great animals for kids.”
Jack Hanson said he has spent six years coming out everyday to the pasture to the alpacas and he believes it has helped him.
“I’m autistic and I’m proud of it,” Jack Hanson said. “I think (alpacas) may help others.”
Alpaca notes for text box:
From the Alpacas of Wintercreek website – www.alpacasofwintercreek.com/AboutAlpacas.asp
• Alpacas were domesticated by the Incas over 5000 years ago and are among the most ancient of the world’s domestic animals. Their natural habitat is the high altitude regions of the Antiplano, or Andes Mountains, in southern Peru, Bolivia and Chile. The alpaca’s ‘cashmere-like’ fleece was reserved only to make clothing for the imperial families of the Incas.
• Alpacas in North America:
The alpaca was first imported into the United States in the early 1980s. They are members of the Camelid family, and are cousins to the camel, llama, vicuna and guanaco. Most alpaca herds are very small, housing less than 20 animals. These hardy animals are very adaptive to different climates and can be found on small acreage farms from Alaska to Hawaii.
• Physical Facts:
Life Span: 20 – 25 years
Adult Height: 32 – 36 inches at the withers (shoulder)
Birth Weight: 10 – 20 pounds
Adult Weight: 100 – 190 pounds