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Alpacas Stimulating Local & National Economy

Zach Bernard/WBOI News

This weekend the Allen County Memorial Coliseum hosted 900 alpacas and their enthusiasts from around the country for the National Alpaca Show and Auction.

Alpacas are relatively new to the United States. They were first commercially imported from South America in 1984, and since then have become popular farm and show animals.

So why do people love alpacas so much? Elizabeth Taylor operates the Spotted Circus Alpaca and Llama Farm in Freedom, Indiana, and has an idea why.

“They’re very calming, but they’re very entertaining at the same time,” said Taylor. “I mean, they’ll do completely stupid, goofy things at random, and they all have a personality.”

“The alpacas are like a cat; they couldn’t care less that I exist unless I have something they want, you know? They’re just a neat animal.”

A common theme among alpaca enthusiasts is that they’re also a “green” animal. The soles of their feet are padded, so farmers don’t have to worry about alpacas ripping up their grass like a horse might. And they’re green for... other reasons.

“You can take their poop and do all sorts of manure things with it,” she said. “It’s really low in nitrogen, so you can put it directly on plants without it burning plants. So gardeners love alpaca poop.”

Credit Zach Bernard/WBOI News

Taylor says their economic value comes not only from the money they save farmers, but also from their fleece. Alpaca fleece is considered smoother and more delicate than a sheep, and is frequently used in clothing.

“The quality has gone to finer fleeces and more lustrous fleeces, so they literally shine and glow now when you look at them,” she said. “And they’re making extremely stunning things now that are woven and coming on the catwalk and stuff.”

Taylor says raising alpacas has become an addiction. She began her farm with only four, and now owns 40.

According to the Alpaca Owners Association, there are over 230,000 registered alpacas in the US, and that number is starting to meet the demands of some commercial clothing makers.

Melinda Nelson works with the Alpaca Fiber Cooperative of North America. Her business focuses on her members, which include over 2,000 farmers.

“Each one has a share in the co-op,” said Nelson. “They send their fiber to us -- and we do not pay for it -- they contribute their fiber, and then we make their products and then buy their products back at a low price and then sell it for their profit.”

Alpaca fleece is growing in popularity, but according to Nelson, it could be a little while before the supply can meet the demands of larger corporations.

“I don’t know exactly, but I would say five years,” she said. “If our members all send their fiber in, we could probably do it now, but they don’t. They have other things they do with their fiber.”

Nelson says growth in the alpaca fleece market could be a boon for the US economy, as American-made materials would be moving with US dollars.

Credit Zach Bernard/WBOI News

Attendance for this weekend’s event also benefits the local economy, due to the number of visitors from other states showcasing their alpacas. Alpaca Owners’ Association Executive Director Darby Vannier says Fort Wayne is the perfect spot to host the show.

“The national show was here in 2010 in this facility,” Vannier said. “We were looking to come back east, and this is a good location because there’s a big population of alpacas in this area. Ohio, Indiana. So we have a good draw of alpaca owners and breeders to make it close enough for them.”

Organizers of the show projected upwards of $500,000 would be funnelled into the city’s economy from the event alone, but according to Vannier, that number doesn’t include visitors’ movement around the city.

“When we come in for the national show, obviously we have a fairly decent-sized impact in Indiana and in Fort Wayne in particular just because we bring so many people in,” he said. “People are buying food and fuel and hotels and all of that sort of thing, as well.”

Vendors were also at the show selling novelty items made from alpaca fleece… And based on alpacas’ growing popularity around the country, those items may not be considered “novelties” for much longer.

Zach joined 89.1 WBOI as a reporter and local host for All Things Considered, and hosted Morning Edition for the past few years. In 2022, he was promoted to Content Director.
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