Northwest NEWS

June 15, 1998

Features

Fall in love with the furry alpaca

alpaca

Photo by Michelle Liu

Tom Berg (l.) and Jan Berg with their alpacas.

by Michelle Liu

   They started with a llama. Right idea, but wrong animal. Then seven years ago Tom and Jan Berg found out what they really wanted - an alpaca. The Bergs bought their daughter a llama, but with time, she lost interest in the animal and Tom decided to go see the alpacas. Jan said, "Why?" Later Jan found herself wanting to sit on the grass all day just watching the gentle alpacas and she said, "That's it!" They became owners of two alpacas.
  
   Alpacas are cousins to the llama, but much smaller, weighing up to 175 pounds (llamas are about 300-400 pounds) and standing 30 to 38 inches at the withers.
  
   Today, the Bergs are happy with the 13 alpacas they have. They are happy with this number, becauses if they had too many they wouldn't be able to appreciate the alpaca's unique personalities. "Each has its own characteristics, some are big babies and some are bossy," Tom said.
  
   Whether alpacas are used for their fiber or breeding, they are profitable animals to own. The alpacas can be shorn once a year. One alpaca will generally yield about 5-10 pounds of fiber, enough to fill two large garbage bags. The fiber is very fine and softer than a cotton ball and comes in 22 different colors. Usually home spinners and weavers buy the fiber to make blankets.
  
   After the alpaca is shorn, the other other alpacas don't recognize it. Tom said they will smell the "new" alpaca for days. It's just like getting a fluffy dog or cat wet, they look totally different.
  
   Breeding and selling the alpaca is even more profitable. A female could sell for about $15,000 and males for $1,200. Tom estimates it costs about $300-$400 a year to raise an alpaca, so the profit is high.
  
   The Bergs show their animals in competitions, mainly to see the quality of the other alpacas. They always want to learn and improve on their breeding practices. They also participate in Woodinville's All Fool's Day Parade with their alpacas. They won the "Furriest Display" trophy in 1996.
  
   One of the positive things about alpaca s is that they don't smell like cows and horses do. In fact, Jan said a lot of their neighbors probably don't know that they raise alpacas. (They will now!) "We do it [raise alpacas] more for the enjoyment. It's fun to come and sit in the summertime, it's like another world," Jan said.