Opinion

WALLY'S WORLD: Alpaca ranching is interesting side job

By Wally DuChateau

I first met Tim Pierick one afternoon about a year ago. During the Rainier’s crowded lunch hour, he sat down beside me at the bar.

He had the longest ponytail I’d seen on a dude since the early ‘70s. Well, now, I thought to myself, this might be an interesting fellow. We struck up a conversation and my suspicions proved correct.

Tim inspects houses. If you’re currently in the market for a house – and at this point in time, it’s a buyer's market – I highly recommend you have someone like Tim inspect a place before you sign any contracts. He can tell you all about cracked foundations, leaky roofs, dry rot and capenter ants.

But that’s how he makes a living. Of far more interest is the ranch he and his wife DeAnna operate just outside the city limits. So, one morning I sat down with him on the porch and we watched the alpacas playfully dance about the backyard while a few Angora goats gazed among them and a Pygmy goat butted me gently on the leg.

I was especially fascinated by the alpacas. They’re native to Peru, where they roam about the Andes Mountains at 10,000 foot elevations. Still, it isn’t difficult for them to acclimate to our region; but, contrary to their normal gentle disposition, on especially hot summer days they become irritable.

Alpacas and llamas are similar, but the latter are a little larger. Llamas measure 5 or 6 feet from the ground to their heads. Each lives about 25 years.

Though the fleece of these animals is used to some degree in the American clothing industry, it’s really of limited commercial value in this country. (Different, of course, in Peru.) In the U.S., black and various shades of gray fur are the most popular colors, but the Peruvian people prefer white which they dye all those beautiful, brilliant colors. Alpaca fleece is generally of better quality and demands a higher price than the llama. (DeAnna has a spinning wheel from which she makes yarn to weave hats, scarves and other accessories.)

The animals are generally sheared between April and September. DeAnna operates a shearing business and travels to various Plateau farms, shaving llamas, alpaca and sheep.

Alpaca breeding programs are more profitable than their fleece. Each summer, more than 500 breeders meet at the Puyallup Fair Grounds for “Alpacapalooza: three days of peace love and livestock.” (Tim is trying to get this event moved to the Enumclaw Expo Center.) Though llamas and alpacas will mate, the breeders tend to frown on this. They would rather keep the species pure.

Tim and DeAnna came from Wisconsin. They moved to Seattle in 1991, then drifted into California for a few years before returning to this area. They settled on their Enumclaw farm in 2004.

In addition to house inspections and their farm animals, Tim and DeAnna enjoy art. They’re especially fond of Salvador Dali and a number of his prints decorate the walls of their home. You don’t expect to find such a collection around these parts and I was, to say the least, pleasantly surprised. Indeed, I almost found the prints more fascinating than the animals. Almost.

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