Baby alpaca star of Silvana farm open house

SILVANA — Weighing about 17 pounds, and, at just over 24 hours old still too new to have a name, the baby alpaca was the star of Sunday’s show.

The newborn was on a ­Silvana-area farm owned by Ruthann McVicker. It was one of eight alpaca farms in Snohomish County and 80 statewide participating in an annual open house.

In addition to seeing a herd of alpacas outside, visitors got a special surprise when they stepped into McVicker’s barn. There, the baby alpaca’s mother, Chia, stood closely by her newborn, listening to the animal’s high-pitched, humming-like sound.

The little alpaca was born about 11:15 a.m. Saturday. She is her mom’s sixth offspring, said Alise Schmitt. She and her husband, John Schmitt, of Marysville, board their alpaca herd at McVicker’s farm.

By the time all the alpaca babies arrive this month, the herd’s size should grow to 21, she said.

Sandy Baker of Marysville was among those who took advantage of the chance to visit an alpaca farm on Sunday.

“Gosh, they’re darling,” she said. “We took a few pictures. I’ve never been this close to alpacas.”

Others, like Gretchen and Hal Schlomann, came both to admire the animals and perhaps think about starting a herd of their own.

The family lives in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood but also owns 11 acres on Whidbey Island, more than enough room to raise a small herd if they choose to do so.

“This piqued our interest as a fun thing to do,” Gretchen Schlomann said.

Her husband ran into an alpaca breeder in Moses Lake on a recent trip. The breeder explained that he had previously worked in construction, but decided to start raising alpacas.

From the size of his rig, Hal Schlomann said, he assumed the job switch had been successful.

Some people buy alpacas as pets, Alise Schmitt said. Others buy them for breeding.

Raising alpacas “can be a fairly lucrative business on small acreage,” Schmitt said.

Pet alpacas can sell for $500 to $750 each. The cost of show-quality animals can be $20,000 and up, she said.

Alpacas have been raised in the United States for about two decades. Washington now ranks as second in the nation for the number of alpacas raised here, Schmitt said.

Their fleece is so luxurious, “it’s like cashmere,” Schmitt said. “A lot of people are interested in that fleece to spin their own yard or to have it processed into yarn or clothing.”

Jane Wagner, of Kirkland, now works as a psychotherapist, but plans to soon retire.

A decision to buy alpacas would bring her life in a kind of full circle. In the 1970s, she raised goats on Camano Island, she explained, processing their milk and cheese.

While the idea of raising alpacas intrigues her, she wondered whether she would be able to handle the commitment and demands of managing the herd.

Her grown daughter, Heather Wagner of Arlington, stood nearby.

“My mom wants me to have the farm,” she explained with a smile. “Hopefully, someday, but not yet.”

Writer Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486 or salyer@heraldnet.com.

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