Cuteness, for fun and profit

A Jarrettsville farm will hold an open house next weekend to raise awareness about the alpaca, a charming South American creature

March 25, 2007|By Cassandra A. Fortin | Cassandra A. Fortin,special to the sun

Irked at being led around the barn on a harness by his owner, Stryker tried to pull away.

He stomped his feet in the dirt and lowered his head as if preparing to charge.

Yet there was no real cause for alarm - Stryker is a docile animal with no hooves, claws or upper teeth. At worst, the 6-month-old alpaca could be guilty of possessing an occasional mischievous attitude.

"Most alpacas aren't like this," said Renee Petersam as Stryker continued the game of tug-of-war. "Stryker is an exception. Alpacas are typically fun-loving and agreeable."

Stryker is one of 23 alpacas at Criative Acres, a 7-acre farm in Jarrettsville owned by Petersam and her husband, John. The couple began breeding the creatures in 2004 after they purchased the farm and searched for animals to raise.

John Petersam wanted to avoid traditional farm animals.

"I was afraid Renee would get kicked by a horse or a goat," said Petersam, a computer consultant and owner of Interactive Consulting Services Inc. in Jarrettsville. I wanted animals that would be safe for her to be around, as well as children."

Their search ended at an alpaca farm in Butler. The Petersams became smitten with the beauty and exotic nature of the animals and their appeal as an investment for a breeding business.

Now they want to share their passion for alpacas with the public by holding an educational open house next weekend. The event will include seminars on care and breeding, as well as a shearing demonstration and a chance for youngsters to take the animals for a walk.

"We are starting the program to raise alpaca awareness," John Petersam said.

The Petersams started out by purchasing three females and two males, and named their farm Criative after "cria," the name for alpaca babies.

"Sometimes people think we don't know how to spell," John Petersam quipped.

Alpacas are native to South America and were first imported to the United States in 1984, said Cindy Berman, a spokeswoman for the Alpaca Owners and Breeders Association Inc. in Nashville, Tenn.

Disposable income comes in handy for an aspiring alpaca owner. Though a standard alpaca intended primarily as a pet can cost about $500, a female for breeding can run anywhere from $15,000 to $200,000, depending on the purity and rarity of the breed.

There are more than 100,000 registered alpacas on about 4,500 farms across the country, Berman said.

"The growth of alpacas in the United States has been slow and steady," Berman said. "This is because alpacas only reproduce one cria per year, and they have to be very carefully bred."

In Maryland, about 2,300 alpacas live on 71 farms, said Jess Armstrong, president of the Maryland Alpaca Breeders Association. But few offer educational programs, which leads to misconceptions about the animals.

Armstrong recounted being asked whether the animals on his White Hall farm were emus.

"I told the person that an emu is a bird, and an alpaca is part of the camel breed," said Armstrong, who tends nine alpacas at Calico Moon Alpaca Farm.

The Petersams say their open house is intended to introduce people of all ages to alpacas, and items made of alpaca fiber including sweaters, blankets and scarves will be on display.

Building the herd has been a slow process, John Petersam said, partly because of the 11 1/2 -month gestation period and partly because of the costs involved. His alpacas range from common animals to a rare pure-bred Accoyo alpaca named Sacajawea. The Accoyo's ancestry originated from the Estancia Accoyo ranch in Macusani, Peru. It is one of the most-coveted alpacas, he said.

"As a breeder, if you can afford it, you should have animals in all different price ranges," Petersam said. "The Accoyo was our chance to enter the high-end alpaca market."

Alpaca breeding is a good investment, and alpacas are easy to become fond of, John Petersam said.

"Alpacas are a great stress reducer," John Petersam said. "After a long day at work, I come home and stand outside or sit at the dinner table and watch the crias galloping around in the field."

The open house will be held from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and April 1 at Criative Acres, 3807 Salem Church Road in Jarrettsville.

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