Personal Touch at a Western Maryland Alpaca Farm

Personal Touch at a Western Maryland Alpaca Farm
by Jennifer LB Leese

Alpacas are without a doubt one of the most adorable creatures to roam our planet. Not only do they come in 22 different vibrant colors they also are extremely gentle in nature with a tranquil temperament. "Alpacas are a very suitable animal. They're not too big--relatively small. They have very nice features...don't weigh a lot, and they don't make a noise except for a humming sound," said Bert Kramer, alpaca breeder and co-owner of the Alpaca Farm Shop in Hagerstown.
Many say that the alpaca's humming is stress relieving and makes you want to hug them even tighter.
They are personable and you can't help but want to be near them. Alpacas, whose lifespan is 15-25 years, have no teeth on the top in the front and do not bite. They have soft padded feet and a non-aggressive personality--all of which make them the perfect animal to own.
Alpacas are members of the South American camelid family. This family is comprised of the vicuna, guanco, llama and alpaca. They are livestock. Unlike llamas, alpacas were raised for their cashmere-like fiber (once reserved only for Incan royalty). "Alpaca fleece is a lightweight, very warm, hypoallergenic natural fiber. It is one of the world's very finest natural materials. The fiber is comparable to cashmere in its fineness and is similar to mohair in its strength. A garment made from alpaca fiber is a cherished garment."
Alpacas have been domesticated for over 5,000 years. These beautiful animals are native to the Andean Mountain Range of South America and are primarily found in Bolivia, Chile and Peru. Roughly there are 3 million alpacas in South America, but there are only about 60,000 in the United States. Alpacas were first imported to the United States in 1984. They are now being successfully raised and enjoyed through North America and abroad.
These docile creatures are often home-raised and become family pets. They are the alternative to sheep farming.
There are two types of alpacas--the Suri and the Huacayas (pronounced wa-ki-a). The Huacayas fiber has a wavy or crimped appearance while the Suri fiber does not. "The product of an alpaca is its fiber. We sheer our alpacas once a year before summer," said Mr. Kramer. Annual fiber yields vary from about 5 pounds from females to 13 pounds from a large male. "We had an eight-month-old who sheered 6 1/2 pounds. Our stud has sheered 11 pounds for the last three years." Breeding and selling alpacas in this ever-increasing popular industry is an easy way to add to your investment dollars.
Why breed alpacas? "It's a bit of a lifestyle," said Mr. Kramer during our interview at their Annapaca Farm. "It's kind of a hobby."
One of the benefits of raising alpacas is the return on your initial investment, which multiples at a strong and steady rate. Along the way, the breeder receives tax benefits and incentives, deductible expenses, capital gains benefits, and insurable animals, making this business even more attractive. "They are expensive to purchase because of supply and demand," informed Mr. Kramer.
Bert and his wife Ann got into alpaca breeding in late 1997. Their son, who lived in LA, came home for Christmas. "On the plane he saw in a flight magazine an ad about alpacas and told us that we should get some of these critters so we don't have to mow the lawn.
"We were intrigued," admits Mr. Kramer. "We found a farm on the Eastern Shore. We saw them and we liked them, so we bought some--4." But the Kramers' didn't stop there. A few days later their other son arrived from Europe. He wanted to see the alpacas so they went back to the farm on the Eastern Shore and bought two more. During that time, they owned a small bit of land with a barn in Montgomery County. When Mr. Kramer retired, they wanted more land. They started looking into Washington County and found the old Herman Mills Farm (once a large dairy farm). The Annapaca Farm was born. The former owner was a CPA. Mr. Kramer turned the accountant's office into the Alpaca Farm Shop. There they sell a wide variety of alpaca garments and products, in addition to raw fleece, rovings, and yarn. Visitors to this cozy little shop will find coats, capes, ponchos, sweaters, cardigans, blankets, scarves, socks, gloves, rugs, and soft alpaca-hair teddy bears. Alpaca clothing is as soft as silk.
At that time they were the first alpaca breeders in Washington County. There are at least 10 now. These breeders have formed an alpaca group called the "Western Maryland Alpaca Network". This network offers customized discount alpaca packages, products locally made and seminars and training for those just getting into alpaca breeding.
The Kramers' currently board about 15 alpacas, owning 20. "We board for other people who buy them but have no place for them."
For $1 per head, the farm offers tours for organizations, schools, retirement homes or groups, and family members shopping may also visit with the enchanting alpacas.
Wherever you are on November 5, 2005, be sure to visit the Annapaca Farm from 10-5 for their "Alpaca Holiday Fashion Bazaar". Visitors will enjoy alpaca fleece products, orchard riches, jewelry, and much more.
Come and visit the farm and alpaca shop and learn how to care for alpacas. Help the Kramers' with giving vaccinations or cutting toenails. You can even offer to take an alpaca for a walk!
If you're interested in learning more about the Western Maryland Alpaca Network, visit them on the web at www.WesternMDAlpacaNetwork.com.
The Kramers' suggest you give them a call at 301-824 2840 or email annkram@aol.com or bertkram@aol.com to arrange a visit. Directions to the farm: From I-70, take exit 35. Head north (towards Smithsburg) onto Route 66 (Mapleville Road). Proceed about 2 miles. Go straight through a traffic circle. Annapaca Farm will be on your left. Look for the alpaca signs at the head of the driveway.
Plan a trip to the Annapaca Farm and touch, hug, or just be near an alpaca--you will be transported into a world of peace and tranquility--even if just while you're there.