Gentle, loving, full of fleece Alpacas: James and Tilly Dorsey raise the animals, which are native to South America and first cousin to the llama, on their 160-acre farm in Butler.

June 26, 1996|By Lisa Respers | Lisa Respers,SUN STAFF

Every day in northern Baltimore County, Frank Sinatra and Yoda meet for a meal.

But it's no Hollywood power lunch -- and the menu usually consists of leafy greens, llama chow and water.

Frankie and Yoda are two of the dozens of alpacas living on James and Tilly Dorsey's 160-acre farm in Butler. Bred primarily for their soft and silky fleece, the animals are natives of South America and resemble their larger first cousin, the llama.

The Dorseys, who three years ago became the first to own and breed alpacas in Maryland, are working hard to increase awareness about the sweet-faced creatures, which are rare in the United States. They plan to play host to the Southern Alpaca Fest in September, and the farm will be a rest stop next month on the Cycle Across Maryland bike tour.

"They are adorable characters that are very loving," said Mrs. Dorsey. "They each have their own individual personality."

And their own interesting names.

Such as Coffee Bean, Munchie, Bamboo, Gonzo and Tabasco (whose father was Hot Tamale). And there's Karl Lagerfeld, who has "designer genes," and Frank Sinatra -- named for his blue eyes and dark hair resembling a bad toupee.

The Dorseys own both the Suri, long-haired alpacas whose spun fleece fiber feels like heavy silk, and the Huacaya breed, which has short, soft hair. On a recent muggy day, the herd gathered around Tilly Dorsey, humming contentedly and nudging her for a treat of llama chow.

"They are very gentle and, unlike llamas, they don't usually spit at humans," Dorsey said as she gently scratched Munchie's chest. "A person can, however, get caught in the cross-fire if they are spitting at each other, and it is pretty smelly and gross."

Dorsey said that three years ago, she and her husband were looking for ways to make their 16-year-old farm profitable after previously raising horses and finding it difficult to make money.

"We thought about sheep but they use up so much of the land, and my husband was getting somewhat frustrated with me because I couldn't decide what I wanted to raise," said Dorsey, who runs DAFI Alpacas while her husband works as chief of gynecology at Greater Baltimore Medical Center.

"One day, he brought home a magazine with alpacas in it and said I should look into it."

Locating information on the animals proved difficult, Dorsey said, and she made several phone calls before discovering the Alpaca Owners and Breeders Association in Estes Park, Colo. Marsha Hobert, manager of the association, said there are 7,800 alpacas in the United States.

"The number is growing as more people discover alpacas," said Hobert, whose organization has more than 900 members in almost a dozen countries. "They are so precious, people just fall in love with them."

Alpacas are considered ideal because their padded feet do not damage land, they eat less than other farm animals and they consume little water. Dorsey said she also likes the fact that she and her husband are raising animals that are not sold for slaughter.

The fleece is sent to a company that processes it into fiber that can be spun into yarn and used to make everything from sweaters to blankets. Dorsey -- who is host to tours of her farm -- said she sells a lot of yarn to weavers who enjoy its durability and softness and to people who get a kick out of making a sweater from the fleece of an alpaca they have petted.

The prices are steep. The breeders association said the animals routinely sell from $7,500 to $25,000. However, some prime breeding males have been known to cost more than $75,000.

And there is the cute factor: The alpacas love to frolic, especially in the children's swimming pools the Dorseys set up on hot days, and they can be quite mischievous.

Last fall, Coffee Bean and Tap Shoes took advantage of a red light and an unlatched door to escape the Dorseys' trailer, about 10 miles before the end of a trip home from the Southern Alpaca Festival in Lexington, Ky. Police rounded up the fugitives after neighbors called complaining of strange animals in the middle of the road.

The Dorseys train the animals and often visit schools and nursing homes for educational programs and petting sessions. Julee Williams, a resource teacher at Hereford Middle School, said the alpacas have been a hit the past two years, participating in a program for sixth-graders studying Latin America.

"I'm just as excited as the kids are, and all of the teachers come in and decide they want one," Williams said. "Once you see them, you can't help but want one."

The Southern Alpaca Fest at the Dorsey farm will include a breeders seminar on Sept. 6, and will be open to the public on Sept. 7 and 8. Information: 374-2817.

Pub Date: 6/26/96

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