|“Sweet Home ALApaca”|
Right Tune for This Farm Couple
Pam and Jerry Pullin were sitting around their kitchen table trying to figure out a name for their new farm about two years ago but nothing "seemed just right."
"Two of our daughters were sitting there coloring and the radio was on," Pam remembered. "The song ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ came on the radio and afterwards we noticed little Sarah just kept singing, ‘Sweet Home ALApaca’ and we knew we’d found our name!"
Although Pam laughingly said she and Jerry "jumped" into the alpaca business "feet first," in actuality they spent many months researching the gentle furry creatures and visiting alpaca farms around the nation before taking the plunge a couple of years ago.
After talking to numerous other owners they decided the docile nature of the animals plus their investment qualities fitted their lifestyle completely.
The couple had lived in many areas before settling on Highway 67 southeast of Arab and near the Marshall-Blount County line.
Pam has spent much of her professional career working with abused and neglected children, performing abuse investigations, arranging adoption placements and referring to therapy. When she and Jerry decided to start a family of their own, they adopted four children with varying degrees of physical and/or mental special needs.
Pam is currently pursuing her PhD in Psychotherapy and she said caring for the alpacas is a perfect fit for her and her family.
"I guess the best advice I ever received about raising alpacas came from a friend in New York," she explained. "He said the only two things you must have are a chair and a rope."
"When I looked at him questionable, he replied: ‘Set your butt down in the chair and have someone tie you in with the rope,’" she laughed. "But he made his point. Alpacas require so little day-to-day care that sometimes I want to overdo it. Sometimes it’s best to just leave them alone."
From birthing to every day tasks like feeding, Pam explained alpacas are really "low maintenance" animals that can pay big dividends, as much as $700 for one year’s fleece from a prize animal!
Births are usually single with most alpacas giving birth before 1 p.m., an attribute left over from their life in the Peruvian Mountains where they had to have their offspring up, clean and moving before the dark when predators were out.
Although most folks would be harried trying to "juggle" the many aspects of the Pullins’ lives, Pam has become so enthused about her animals that she has added alpaca education to her list of many activities.
The farm hosted their Second Annual Farm Field Day in September and has hosted a special seminar for veterinarians in the area featuring an alpaca specialist vet from Massachusetts for about 25 local vets and alpaca owners. One-on-one seminars are frequent and other group events are planned. They also welcome homeschool, church and other groups for educational tours by appointment.
The Pullins’ farm is neat, with Jerry vacuuming the highly-prized-for-fertilizer alpaca "poop" with a Shop Vac, an easy task because alpaca’s neatly use the same area for their needs every day.
The animals are so docile "you might drive by and see the kids out in the yard with an alpaca in a harness as they lead her gently around the yard as a natural weed-eater," Pam commented.
Recently the family carried two of the animals to a show in nearby Arab. They seldom use their small trailer, instead carrying the animals with their kids in their mini-van. After the show, the family’s trip through the drive-through at the local McDonald’s —- with kids laughing and two happy alpacas trying to stick their heads out the side windows —- caused a lot of heads to turn!
"Our main goal is education," Pam explained. "These are wonderful animals but they are still pretty rare."
Alpacas were first imported into the U.S. from South America in 1984 and the borders for importation were closed in 1991. Now all alpaca stock must be bought from alpaca owners who breed their own stock in this country. And that sometimes can result in a long wait since the alpaca gestation period is 11 ½ months.
"But the mothers can be bred back only two weeks after they give birth," Pam explained. "And they really don’t seem truly happy unless they are pregnant."
Pam stresses that alpacas are not a "get-rich-quick-scheme." They are owned as pets, for their
fleeces and to sell as breeding stock.
Breeding animals with fine pedigrees are worth far more and those raised for their fleece are judged on the content of their coats. The belt around their middle is the fleece worth the most, then the neck area. That of the legs is used mainly for rugs and more coarse applications.
Some alpacas that may not have the best fleece or might have the wrong size ears, etc., can be bought for about $500, but usually basic good breeding stock will cost anywhere from $2,000 to $5,000. But there are payment plans available from alpaca organizations after a reasonable down payment.
Quality fleeces can be sold for up to $700 with the fleeces either bought by the Alpaca Co-op or sold individually to home spinners who prize the fiber. An alpaca fleece usually weighs from five to ten pounds and each animal is shorn once per year, usually in the spring. Fleece from the babies, or crias, is especially prized for its softness.
The Pullins have been offered $30,000 for one of their breeding females but decided not to sell her, instead keeping her to increase their own herd, which now stands at 22.
"We want to work eventually so there are enough alpacas in the U.S. to compete with the wool market," Pam said. "With more folks wanting natural fibers in their clothing and other items, this is vitally important."
The Pullins raise only the huacaya-type alpacas. Huacaya fleece has a degree of waviness or crimp, giving them a fluffy, teddy bear-type look and feel. The other types, suris, have no crimp in their fiber and it appears to hang in pencil-type locks.
Pam said alpacas were a good choice for her family because of their general nature, noted they are a good choice for small farmers, like women, and those who may be getting older, because of their smaller size. They usually weigh from 135 to 150 lbs. with a few up to 200 lbs. The Pullins’ animals are fed about a half cup of food per day, getting the rest of the nutrition from grazing.
Alpacas can be depreciated for tax purposes and there are other financial advantages to raising them, Pam said.
"We’ve found most alpaca owners are just as taken with their animals as we are," Pam said. "We want to do our part in promoting these special animals."
Those wanting more information can check out the website www.alpacanation.com/SweetHomeALApaca.asp or give Pam a call at 205-429-1625.
Suzy Lowry Geno is a freelance writer from Blount County.