Rick first became interested in alpacas on January 31, 2001, when he picked up
a brochure in the Romney Public Library. It described the
Almost Heaven Guesthouse and Alpaca Farm
in Augusta, WV, a few miles away. When he got home, he called the owners, but
they weren't home. He contacted the
Alpaca Breeders and Owners Association
to obtain a Breeders' Guide so he could find out whether there were other
breeders in our area. When the guide arrived, he called several breeders and
arranged to visit their farms over the next few days.
Although he visited several alpaca breeders within a 3-hour driving distance,
he continued to call Almost Heaven every day, and never reached anyone.
Further, his calls were never returned.
Before he went too far with his investigation, he contacted our local
veterinarian to find out if he had any experience with alpacas. It turned out
that he was the vet caring for the Almost Heaven herd, and he gave Rick
instructions on how to get to the farm. Rick went out there the next day and
was impressed with the cleanliness and opulence of the place.
He continued to visit breeders, and eventually took me with him to visit
Ore Hill Alpacas
, another well-kept and clearly expensive operation. We liked Cleve and Bev
Fredricksen a great deal, and decided to buy our herd from them. They gave us
the names of new breeders who had purchased animals from them, and we called
them when we got home. Unfortunately, we were unable to reach either of them.
One telephone number was a fax number and the other people were on vacation in
the Galapagos Islands.
But we still wanted to find out whether there were other owners starting from
"scratch" - on a shoestring budget. We wanted to find someone who was
relatively new to the business, who had just started their herd, and who was
not backed by enormous financial resources.
Finally, on Saturday, February 10, the Ciszewskis of the Almost Heaven farm
contacted us. They had been on vacation since January 29th, which was why they
hadn't contacted us, but they invited us to visit them the next day.
On Sunday, we drove over to the farm and met the animals. They were so much
more friendly than the alpacas at the Fredericksen's farm - at least in part
because there were so many fewer of them. The Fredricksens have about 130
animals, while the Ciszewskis have about 14. With so few animals, it's easy to
get "up close and personal" with each of them.
On Tuesday, we drove up to see Vision Acres (no web page). These folks just
started their farm last fall, and while they have 40 acres of marvelous land,
they had to build all their fences and shelters themselves. They have a
tractor, though, and a barn or shed, which gave them a head start on us. Their
huacaya female, Biscuit, was a real pet. She is the first alpaca that came to
us and insisted on being petted and touched. We fell in love with her
immediately. She had a little suri weanling for a companion, and the suri was
a bit shyer, but if she was close to Biscuit, she'd let us pet her, too. This
picture is of Biscuit and Terry.
After seeing all these lovely farms, we weren't sure we'd be able to pasture
alpacas on our property. We live on 8 acres on the side of a small mountain in
the Appalachians, and it seemed to us our land might be too steep,
tree-covered, and rocky even for alpacas. The pictures here are of our land
before we started to clear it. Click on the images to see larger versions of
It was clear that the majority of, if not all, alpaca owners started with
financial resources we couldn't even begin to match. If we were going to raise
alpacas, we'd have to start with unusable land and no money. So how could we
Our first task was to convince a bank that raising alpacas would be profitable.
We developed a business plan that we first took to the people from whom we
wanted to buy our herd. We wanted them to tell us whether our assumptions were
correct. They thought our assumptions and numbers were reasonable, and we took
the plan to the bank on February 14th and applied for a loan. The bank officer
said we'd need an appraisal on our property, so we resigned ourselves to
waiting for that to happen.
Our second task was to clear the land. Even before the bank appraised our lot
and approved our loan, we wanted to get started on that. We'd leave all the
trees that were 6" in diameter or larger except the oaks. Acorns are toxic for
alpacas, so we decided to take down all the oaks that had been missed by the
clear-cutters who had stripped the land before we bought it. The images below
show the initial stages of our clearing efforts. Again, click the images to
view larger versions.
Finally, it was time to choose our herd. Initially, we had planned to buy from
Ore Hill Farms, but since we planned to "pick the brains" of the Ciszewskis to
find out how to do this business, it seemed only fair to buy our herd from them
instead. It was hard to call Cleve and Bev and beg off our agreement with
them, but they were very understanding and let us go, although I'm sure they
were disappointed in us. But we're really glad we changed our minds, because
we have been real nuisances to the Ciszewskis, and that would have been so hard
to do with Ore Hill folks, who are over 3 hours away. This description of our
alpacas was adapted from the description given to us by Bill and Lee Ciszewski
Almost Heaven Guesthouse and Alpacas
Sobata is a true black huacaya female who consistently produces high-quality
crias. Her last two, Sarai and Elijah, are excellent examples of her ability
to produce the finest animals. She was born January 9, 1996, a Chilean import
of Achacollo Coco (Dam). She is currently bred to Almost Heaven's Katahdin,
and is due July 2001.
Sarai is a real charmer! She has lovely, true black, huacaya fleece and big,
beautiful eyes. Her conformation is stunning and she is inquisitive and
curious. Her dam Sobata has been a great mother and we believe Sarai will be
able to produce great crias as well. She was born March 21, 1999, by Acero
Marka's Raven out of Sobata De Achacollo. Sarai is currently bred to Almost
Heaven's Katahdin, and is due August, 2001.
Rebekah is just full of energy. She is white and has really beautiful, dense,
crimpy fleece with maximum coverage almost from nose to toes. She was born
November 18, 1999, by Acero Marka's Bobby out of Acero Marka's Camilla and will
be ready to breed by late Spring, 2001.
Sheba is a beautiful, rich brown, with great conformation and luxurious fleece.
Her even disposition and calm demeanor are traits captured from her mom (DDM
Allante) and dad (Almost Heaven's Katahdin). She was born September 8, 2000,
and will be ready to breed by Spring, 2002.
Shiloh is the yearling offspring of a blue-ribbon winner (Macusani's Majesty)
and a gorgeous brown dam (DDM Allante), and looks every inch a winner himself.
He is a dark fawn, like coffee with cream, is very regal and has marvelously
fine, soft fleece. Born August 17, 1999, he was judged as having excellent
conformation at the AOBA 2000 show, and he's a sweetheart as well. He'll be
ready to breed by Spring, 2002.
Click on the image to see a larger version of Shiloh, our herdsire-in- waiting.
One of the things that puzzled us was how folks made money on alpaca fleece.
There didn't seem to be much of a market for it. We discovered that the fleece
is shorn from the animals and delivered to the
Alpaca Fiber Co-op of North America
, who for a fee will send the fleece to Peru, South America to be processed
into finished Alpaca products, which the co-op members could then buy with the
points they were given when they sent in the fleece. The members had to sell
the products themselves, though. There were no clues as to how that might be
done, but people were doing it, so we knew it was possible.
By February 14, we had joined the
Alpaca Owners and Breeders Association
, the Mid-Atlantic Alpaca Association. We signed a contract for our herd, and
we have the land about a quarter cleared. We almost signed up to take two of
our alpacas to a show in April to see if we could garner some ribbons for our
own farm, but we realized that in order to tranport the alpacas, we'd need a
sort of horse-trailer, but a specially modified trailer in which we could
transport both gear and animals. We're holding off on signing up for the show
until we find out whether we can get transport for the beasts.
By February 25th, we were getting very antsy about our loan. We went to see
the the loan officer, who told us that he couldn't lend us the money using our
house as collateral, because we're starting a business. He could have told us
that when we first applied for the loan, and saved us two weeks of waiting!
He'll have to get an associate from some organization that guarantees such
loans to look at the paperwork and decide whether or not his firm would
guarantee it. That person was supposed to get back to us today, but hasn't
On March 5th, the bank was no closer to granting our loan than it had been two
weeks earlier. The loan officer still hadn't heard anything from the guarantor
- they hadn't even looked at our paperwork yet! So we went to another bank and
filled out all their forms, and they said they'd be back to us no later than
10AM on Friday, March 16th.
The land is almost entirely cleared off now - it looks like such a lot of
property! It's only a 300 x 300 foot square, but it looks a lot bigger than
that. We've left up most of the birch, beech, maple, dogwood, hickory,
chestnut, pine, and spruce, but it's really cleared things out a lot to take
down the oaks. We called out a forester to make sure we weren't doing anything
really dastardly to the land, and he said it's as well that we're taking down
the oaks, because the Gypsy Moths are killing them. Taking them down is better
than having them fall on us, he said.
So now we're looking for someone to buy about 2 1/2 acres worth of downed
oak... got any candidates? Most of the lumber mills around here don't think
that's enough wood to bother with, but it sure looks like a lot to us!
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