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The North Forty, More Than Just Land

By Heather Poore


Vickie and Mitch Vandament and one of their alpacasWhat is an alpaca and how did they end up in Osborne? Alpacas, as defined by Webster's Dictionary, are South American llamas. Its orgins can be traced back to the Inca Empire in South America. Throughout history, alpaca fleece was a means of measuring one's wealth. They finaly found their way to the United States in 1983. However, when in Kansas, people tend to think of cows and plows not alpacas. That may be the case in most instances, but for Mitch and Vickie Vandament alpacas fit right in.

Raising alpacas was not their first idea. Mitch is a career farmer and "instead of buying half the county to make a living," he realized he needed to start thinking about another future.

"We first started reading about alpacas in the spring of 2003," Mitch says. There were a number of reasonsthe animals interested them. For Mitch it was financial, for Vickie, it was their temperament.

Alpaca with visiting children

They did their research before they bought into the alpaca farm idea. After reading articles about Kansas's alpaca farmers, they decided to look into the matter further by attending the Kansas State Fair alpaca show. They met up with a woman who lived in Chapman and toured her farm. Mitch liked what he saw; so he did further research on the Internet trying to find out as much as he could about the alpaca industry.

The Vandaments' developed a five-year plan after several farm visits. "We are small farmers; Vickie is a speech pathologist. The alpaca industry is high growth and has a high demand for the fleece," Mitch says. "Overall, this is my retirement."

In June of 2004, nearly a year later, the Vandaments' bought their first alpacas. Mitch purchased 40 acres of ground just north of Osborne (thus the name of the farm) to house the alpacas. A barn was erected to house the 17 males that came from Colorado. For now, the females are being boarded in Colorado.

The Vandaments' five-year plan includes purchasing more alpacas for breeding and selling the fleece from the stock. Mitch notes that there are 22 natural colors in the alpaca species, but white is the most valuable because it can be dyed. A majority of the animals that the Vandaments own are white, but that comes at a price: the fleece is more valuable the, so the initial cost of the alpaca is more.

Close up of alpaca fleece

The industry bases the value of the fleece on several factors from crimp (wave in the fiber) and luster to density (how tight the fibers are) and staple length (the length of the fiber). As the main end product of alpacas, high emphasis is placed on the fleece when judging the alpaca's worth in and out of the show ring.

In the second year of the strategic plan, the North 40 Alpaca farm is about to get a second barn just over the hill for the females; it will also house a retail store. They plan to aquire more alpacas in the near future. Several of the males currently on the farm will be used strictly for fleece production. In the alpaca industry, one male can take care of 20-25 females. So there is not a large need for the male alpacas, however the Vandaments' found out that instead of trying to sell males, shearing them for their fleece is just as profitable as shearing a female, although the fleece may be more coarse.

The fleece from the farm is sent to Shepherd's Mill, in Phillipsburg, for processing after shearing. At Shepherd's Mill the fleece will be skirted and carted, as well as processed into yarn, socks, sweaters, etc. These products will be marketed right in the new barn's retail store.

The retail store (1,100 sq. ft.) will offer educational tours in addition to the sale of alpaca products and the animals themselves. "The goal is to do bus tours, and craft classes that include the dying, and how to make things with the yarn," Vickie says.

Many designers are beginning to use blends of the alpaca fleece to increase the durability and quality of the material. "The lanolin is less in alpaca's fleece than in sheep's wool, so there is less itch," Mitch explains. One of the big names in the fashion industry using the fleece is Ralph Lauren. Just think, Osborne as a fashion capital.

Besides the marketing and selling of alpacas and their products, the Vandaments' have taken an interest in local youth. One girl helps with the daily chores; others own and board their animals at the farm.

Completion of the retail and female breeding barn is projected to be complete in the fall of 2006.

 

 

 

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Last Updated July 14, 2006
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