PORT ALLEGANY — Down Sartwell Creek Road is a quiet farm where you can hear the tintinnabulation of wind chimes, roosters crowing and the occasional dog bark. What might be less likely to be heard is made up in sight: Alpacas roaming in the pasture behind the farm.
The farm, Cinco C’s Alpacas, has been an alpaca breeding farm since 2002. Chris Howard is the third generation on the farm. When he was growing up, it was a dairy farm. He and his wife Carol lived in Kane, where they had a business and raised their three children. He wanted to get back to the farm and have some type of livestock; Carol had no farming experience. They eventually settled on alpacas and are now well known nationally and have won numerous awards for their top quality alpacas.
Earlier this year, Carol brought two alpacas to the national alpaca show held in Fort Wayne, Indiana, where one alpaca placed first and the other placed second in its class.
“In national competition we measure up pretty well, we’re very proud of that. It shows our dedication to our breeding program because we are very careful about what we breed. We don’t just breed to have babies,” Carol said.
What makes an alpaca “the best”? Its fleece, conformation — the correctness of the body — and what it produces, Carol said.
“Do their babies have a lot of fleece on them, are the babies what we’re looking for? If a male or female is not producing top quality, then we don’t use them anymore,” she said. Those alpacas are typically then sold as pets or to people who want fiber animals.
Sometimes an alpaca can be top quality, but it’s just not a color that they will use in their breeding program. She talked about a white male alpaca who was top quality, but his color was going to be tricky for her to get what they needed. “But he’d be perfect for somebody else,” Carol said.
They also competed at the national fleece show, where one of their juvenile male alpacas was the reserve champion.
Cinco C’s currently has 85 alpacas from the whole alpaca color spectrum — different hues of grey, white, brown and black — but they focus their breeding program on the black fleece. It’s a personal preference, Carol said, they just like that color of alpaca the best.
Getting any specific color fleece can be challenging though, as it doesn’t necessarily matter what colors the mother and the father are. The cria — baby alpaca — can be any color. Genetics are also a factor; the Howards have done their research on their alpacas’ genetics and have a good sense of what color the cria will be.
Carol was obviously pleased when one alpaca, Dahlia, gave birth to a black cria, Charna, on Thursday, Sept. 3.
The average gestation period for an alpaca is between 330-370 days. Three weeks after an alpaca gives birth, it can be bred again. That’s the healthiest way to do it, Carol said.
Their birthing season this year was from March to mid-November. Alpacas can be bred at any time of the year, but they choose to have it so they are born in the warmer months.
A cria will typically nurse for six months. Otherwise, alpacas eat grass and hay. Alpacas only have teeth on the bottom of their mouths and their top lip is split.
“That split lip, they actually use to break the grass off, so they don’t pull it out, which means they’re very earth friendly,” Carol said.
The fleece can be used to make different textiles, like rugs and clothes, anything that can be made out of fiber. That’s where the money is, Carol said. They sell yarn that’s made from their alpaca fiber that’s processed at a local mill. They also belong to a couple of fiber cooperatives that make finished goods, like hats and mittens, from their alpaca fiber.
“We make money by selling their fleece and fleece products. And we also sell the alpacas,” Carol said. “All of them aren’t breeding stock, we only use the top quality alpacas in our breeding program.”
The average price for a breeding alpaca is between $7,000 and $15,000, Carol said, though it depends on the quality, show wins and genetics. A non-breeding alpaca could go for less, starting around $500. Because alpacas are herd animals, Carol won’t sell a single alpaca, they have to go in a group of three, unless she knows the person already has a herd of alpacas.
Looking forward, Carol expects to “down size” the alpaca herd, likely maintaining a herd of about 50. But they’ll still continue to have babies born.
“I don’t see us going anywhere,” Carol said. “Both of us really enjoy the animals and we love taking care of them.”