Waldoboro Alpaca Farm Becoming Leading Proponent of Alternative Agriculture
If you visit Village Farm Alpacas, just around the corner from Moody’s diner in Waldoboro, you will find an 1840 barn and a 22 acre farm that now has become one of the State’s leading proponents of alternative agriculture. Alpaca farmers Terry and Bonnie Callery have a “small is beautiful” farm philosophy where they have been successful in maximizing the dollars per acre generated by their alpaca ranching operation along with successful farm store. Alpacas have been raised in Peru and Chile for 5,000 years to produce the world’s softest and most luxurious fiber. The Callery’s shear their herd of 30 alpacas each spring to produce hundreds of skeins of naturally colored yarn and they sell the 100% alpaca yarn in the Village Farm Alpaca Shop.
“Everything in our shop is alpaca,” explains Terry Callery, “there is nothing that isn’t at least a 50% alpaca blend in the shop and because we are a farm store, we have no rent and no payroll… so we can sell alpaca blankets and sweaters at very good price points for alpaca products…we are not traditional retailers. But the best thing about our business model is that we connect folks with the products they purchase by doing a farm tour for our shop patrons showing them our herd and educating them about alpaca farming. It is a little like these wineries cropping up in the mid-coast, you buy a case of wine and get a tour from the farmer who is actually growing the product. There is a direct one-to-one relationship here.”
Callery has been tirelessly educating the public about his “small is beautiful” farm philosophy for over 10 years and has been highlighted in The Bangor Daily News, Rockland’s Free Press, The Lincoln County News (“For Maine Alpaca Farmers…Small is Beautiful”), National Public Radio, and most recently on Boston TV 5.
“Peter Mehegan, the well respected veteran reporter from WCVB-TV in Boston, set up his piece on alpaca farming in Maine by shooting me standing in my garlic beds,” said Terry Callery. “I grow about 100 lbs. of Russian Red Garlic here at Village Farm in Waldoboro. I explained to Peter that since garlic is $10/lb. he was looking at $1,000 worth of garlic. And that if I wanted to make $1,000 growing potatoes, I would have had to have planted 50 times the space. You don’t have to go to Harvard Business School to realize that doing 2% of the work to generate the same dollars is way more efficient. Well alpacas are the livestock equivalent of garlic in that they can generate substantial dollars on small acreage,” Callery expained.
Alpacas are low impact livestock that go “lightly on the land”. They are environmentally friendly, having soft-padded feet and only a set of bottom grazing teeth. Clean-up chores are made easy by their use of a communal pile. Most alpaca farmers have little or no heavy farm machinery and most do not hire outside help. The average alpaca requires just 20 small square bales of hay per year in addition to pasture and a cup of supplemental grain mix. The animals require a simple three-sided shelter for protection from the elements, although many of Maine’s alpacas are quartered in beautiful old barns or elaborately constructed new ones. Alpacas are very intelligent and can be easily handled and halter trained for transport. Many new alpaca breeders have no previous livestock experience. They look at the minimal land requirement and at the small amount of farm infrastructure such as fencing, mowers, buildings, etc…and they say, “Hey, I could do this!” So many of Maine’s alpaca farms start small, with just a few bred females. As the herd multiplies, the investment grows.
For the last decade, prices for alpacas have been fairly stable, with most quality bred females selling in the range of $15,000–$20,000. Demand is fueled by the many tax benefits of alpaca ownership such as depreciation and capital gains… as well as by a very strong national association which promotes alpaca ownership in print advertising, on television, at shows, and on the web. Alpaca breeders benefit from a slow and steady herd growth, which is limited by the fact that alpacas have just one birth each year with a long gestation period of eleven and a half months. In addition, the supply is also limited because the registration of alpacas is closed to new imports. Much like thorough-bred horses, alpacas are micro-chipped and an “Alpaca Registry” records each animal’s lineage and bloodlines. Thus, with a sound business plan and the high value of alpacas, a Maine alpaca breeder can generate substantial income on small acreage.
While sheep’s wool is sold in the $4/lb. range, alpaca farmers in the State report getting $40/lb. for their fine fleeces and they may get 5–8 pounds per animal from each Spring shearing. Alpaca fleece is almost as fine as Cashmere, has no lanolin, is hypoallergenic for most people and is thought to be four times warmer than sheep’s wool. Alpaca fiber comes in 22 natural colors that include rose gray, true black, and maroon-red, so most alpaca is sold to hand spinners, knitters, and weavers naturally colored although it can be dyed. Most alpaca fleece is being custom processed at “mini-mills” here in Maine that often run just one fleece at a time cleaning, carding, and spinning it into yarn. Again the “small is beautiful” approach applies to this growing cottage industry. Maine has more “mini-mills” custom processing alpaca, angora, cashmere, and other specialty fibers than anywhere else in the United States.