“Ah! Alpacas!” This was the title of a PowerPoint presentation delivered to 37 Y’s Men of Meriden on Oct. 17, by Linda Hettrick, owner and breeder at Quinnipiac Valley Alpacas in Cheshire, founded in 2005. Hettrick currently maintains a herd of 16 alpacas who are clearly her best friends!
Alpacas are native to the Andes mountains of Peru, grazing at 11,000-16,000 feet altitude year-round except for being collected once yearly for shearing. There are two types (huacaya and suri) and are part of the camelid family which also includes llamas (which are taller, heavier and can be ridden.) Alpacas were first imported into America in 1984 (but importation banned since 1991.)
Alpacas grow to about a five-foot height, weigh 150-180 lbs. and live 16-22 years. They communicate with humming and clucking sounds, but also have an alarm cry which causes the herd to immediately band together; indeed, while the herd sleeps, one member always stays awake on the lookout, hence the animals are often used by humans as guards. The animals eat grass, hay and grain (and supplemental vitamins in a domesticated environment) emptying into a three-chambered stomach.
These herd animals have no upper teeth in the front of their mouths, allowing them to bite off grass blades rather than pulling them out of the ground. Males do have “fighting” teeth and may challenge a male in another herd (sometimes biting off its genitals.) Alpacas are covered with a fiber coat, superior to wool in many ways: softer, warmer (due to its semi-hollow core,) stronger, hypoallergenic (containing no lanolin,) and resistant to water, fire and odors. And it comes in more natural colors than any other species with hues from black through browns and grays to white.
Gestation averages 350 days, with the single offspring (called a cria) standing and nursing within the first hour (perhaps with a maternal nudge) as defense from predators. Delivery occurs prior to midafternoon, to prevent the offspring from death by nighttime freezing at these high altitudes. Rarely born twins generally do not survive unless another “mom” steps in to help with nursing. Even alpaca manure is treasured as garden fertilizer and odorless fireplace fuel.
Hettrick has raised 20 newborns since 2005. The fiber from an annual shearing is sent to a company in Massachusetts for conversion into yarn, hats, gloves, socks and boot inserts, which are then sold from her farm, along with bags of manure (free if you bag it yourself.) Her alpacas each have a Spanish nickname which they individually recognize (but when called, either will come or may only raise their ears!.) Protection from predators (foxes, coyotes and bobcats, with an occasional hawk eyeing a baby) keeps Hettrick alert. A flurry of questions followed the presentation, rolling on despite efforts by the Y’s Men Chairman to end the meeting!
For further information about the Y’s Men of Meriden, go to ysmenofmeriden.com or call 203-238-7784.