National Alpaca Farm Days will be coming to the Plateau Sept. 27 and 28. Farms that are hosting free open houses for the weekend include Liberty Alpacas in Maple Valley, Polaris Alpacas in Tacoma, and Stellar Alpacas in Spanaway.
Alpacas are mainly used for their fiber, which the Alpacas Owners Association claim is lighter and warmer than wool. Alpaca fiber also does not contain any grease or lanolin like wool can, is hypoallergenic and water resistant.
Lorrie and Jeff Williamson started Liberty Alpacas farm back in 2007. “We needed to get livestock for our property, and I didn’t want to do horses anymore,” Lorrie Williamson said.
Instead, the Williamson’s attended a National Alpaca Farm Day event, and when they saw the alpacas Lorrie said, “It was love at first sight.” Liberty Alpacas is participating in National Alpaca Farm Days this year, and will have their farm and store open for those two days.
The Williamsons said there are two kinds of alpacas on farms.
The first kind of alpaca is called a huacaya (pronounced wa-Ki’-ah). Huacayas look like teddy bears, said Lorrie, and have shorter fiber than a suri. Suris have longer fibers that, “hang down like dreadlocks,” said Jeff Williamson, and tends to be curly.
According Jeff Williamson alpacas are normally shaved once a year around May or June, “and produce anywhere from three to 12 or 14 pounds of fleece,” though eight pounds tends to be the average.
The Alpacas Owners Association reports alpaca fibers range in price from between two to five dollars per ounce of fiber.
However, the Williamsons don’t sell raw fiber. Instead, they send their fiber to Bob and Danise Cathel in Sunnyside, who run Silbury Hill Alpaca farm and Spring Harvest Fiber Mill.
The Cathels started their mill in July 2013, and since then, “business has been booming,” said Bob Cathel, mentioning that they have multiple months of backlogged orders.
The Cathels are sent fiber from all over Washington, and they process the raw fiber into yarn, which is sent back to farmers.
The Williamsons then make their own products from the fiber, “because it is more profitable than selling raw fleece,” said Jeff.
According to the Alpaca Owner’s Association, raw fiber tends to sell at two to five dollars per ounce.
Liberty Alpacas sells yarn for purchasers to knit their own clothes, as well as hats and socks the Williamson’s make themselves.