Sleaze. Sex. Scandal.
All of these are common in business and seldom shock anyone, but nowhere else do they receive the degree of acceptance and applause than they do in the alpaca industry. Maybe other farming and breeding businesses have similar ethics, but I can only speak from my own experience.
Generally, alpacas are the sweet, cuddly creatures that give people the warm fuzzies. They’re soft, curious and approachable. Bonus: they hum. When people sink their hands into an alpaca’s plush, silky fleece, they want to take off their clothes and roll around in a mountain of the stuff. I understand this craving, and so do retailers of alpaca sweaters, jackets, socks, scarves and other apparel. They charge a lot for it. But normal, ordinary people actually pay upwards of $200 for an alpaca sweater. These are the same folks who use coupons at Giant Eagle. I know some of them, and none of them have any ties to a farm. They just want alpaca products and are willing to pay for them. This is where alpaca breeders get to thinking.
It’s all about production
Breeders spend gobs of time contemplating various genetic combinations, envisioning the results of matching lines with colors. Most breeders believe they’re on a mission to build the perfect animal – an elegant and fertile creature with strong bones, abundant rous fleece and a charming disposition. Since United States alpaca production is nowhere near enough to support a domestic fiber mill to meet demand, we breeders consider it out duty to produce a profuse crop of worthy offspring. In fact, according to AOBA (Alpaca Owners and Breeders Association), there are only about 200,000 registered alpacas in America. Compared with Peru’s excess of three million animals, we’re terribly deficient in our quantity if alpaca garments are going to outpace sheep’s wool products during our lifetime. Production of high-quality alpacas is what breeders obsess over and plan. And since it takes a nearly a year to get from conception to birth, most farmers want to hedge their bets and get it right. So, what’s the big deal? Why don’t we just bring our Barry White CDs into the barn and have a good time?
All we need are willing participants. Most of the time, this is not a problem.
Meet Kapri, Sirius Alpacas’ hostile mama. She’s pretty, but wicked. A Peruvian import that came to the United States via Canada, this lady is one anti-alpaca-farm-PR spokeswoman. She has no interest in human demand for alpaca fleece, and if I didn’t know better, I’d swear she was on a campaign to prevent all species other alpacas from wearing it. What does she care that yarn from her fleece sells for $18 a skein? She doesn’t, and if anyone had to base a decision on what alpacas are like on her, people would run away spitting and kicking.
What’s particularly interesting about her is that she shares her aversion to humans with other alpacas, namely eligible suitors. And here is where good business involves a scandal.
Late last spring, I wanted to breed Kapri to El Pacachino, a nice boy from next door, whose fleece had won ribbons in numerous shows in previous years. His owners were happy; I was happy; Kapri was fertile and ready to accept as confirmed via ultrasound. She should have been happy too. So, I made the arrangements for a hot date. El Pacachino arrived at our farm, ready to get to work. Kapri was isolated in a pasture away from the rest of the herd. The weather was mild. Breezes were blowing. Birdies were chirping. Bees were buzzing. Conditions were ideal.
El Pacachino sauntered to his lady of the moment and gave her an encouraging sniff. She spit at him. He circled her. She bucked. He tried to nuzzle her. She kicked. This behavior from a ready female is highly unusual. Every other breeding I’ve seen involving an ovulating female is, shall I say, accommodating?
Poor El Pacachino took a beating. I packed him up and drove him home where I could only imagine the sad story he had to tell the boys back at his barn. I called my vet, and scheduled another ultrasound for the next day. I didn’t believe she was actually ready to conceive, given her blatant aggression.
Next day, the vet arrived and confirmed Kapri’s receptive status, adding that he had no idea why she hadn’t accepted. “Tranquilize her and breed her right now,” the vet said.
“Huh?” I said. “You’re kidding. Isn’t this illegal? The equivalent of date ?”
“Nah. It’s no big deal. Happens all the time.”
I wonder how well this strategy would go over in any other business. But in the alpaca world, I’ve learned this practice is common with belligerent imports. Most animals ready to be bred are eager to comply. But Kapri isn’t like most animals. She’s psychotic and requires more than mood music. She needs the equivalent of a pitcher of margaritas. If her babies weren’t so good, I’d have sold her.
The fruit of Kapri’s -induced interlude with El Pacachino turned out to be Zambino – a handsome light fawn boy. And this upcoming birth means another breeding is imminent. I’ve got the poor guy picked out. Little does he know he’ll be getting more than a good time.
I hope his ethics are questionable.
Sirius Alpacas is a family farm in Chardon, Ohio that raises and boards alpacas for fun, therapy and profit. The farm uses its fleeces in the production of high-quality yarns and felted goods. Sirius Alpacas also imports fair-trade Andean items from Peru and Bolivia, offering the style and culture of South American goods while helping the farmers, artists and craftsmen of that region.