Alpacas for Alternative Farmers

LoVerdes Bios

Fleecy Dale Farm

Introduction: Between the Lines

Corrections or additions?

This article by Pat Summers was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on

September 9, 1998. All rights reserved.

Alpacas: Fleecy Futures?

Remember Dustin Hoffman in "The Graduate?"

The one-word key to the future in that rendering of the pre-rebellion

1960s was "plastics." Today, given the gyrations of the stock

market and the international financial crises, the same scene might

end with the word "alpaca."

That’s right, the alpaca: A member of the camelid family; about 150

pounds and three feet tall at the shoulders; related to the

(twice-as-large)

llama and the wild vicuna; native to South America; domesticated for

at least 5,000 years; with 22 recognized colors of their highly valued

coats; and now living in Lambertville, Lawrenceville, and a growing

number of other points around the United States.

Among the proud new breed of alpaca breeders are John and Lauren

LoVerde,

proprietors of Fleecy Dale Farm on Harbourton-Mount Airy Road in

Lambertville,

who introduced us to the little-known animals and the business

strategy

that they embody.

The alpaca is sort of sweet and smiley-looking in a portrait photo,

with a smallish head, long neck, large torso, knock-knees, and furry

all over, or, more correctly, fleecy. Chameleon-like, an individual

alpaca can resemble a goat, sheep, giraffe, monkey, camel, horse —

even a poodle, given how some of them sport neck ruffs and topknots.

And, come to think of it, Sesame Street’s Big Bird, but in tasteful

earth tones.

Alpacas’ faces and fleeces differ widely. Some alpacas have long

noses,

and others have short ones; some have full topknots, while others

are straight-haired there; some, but not all, have wide, almost round

eyes; for some, the fleece feels thick and loopy — a walking

Berber

rug — others are less densely covered. They can look haughty,

or cutely goofy.

Non-aggressive and disease-resistant by nature, alpacas are

earth-friendly

and produce a cashmere-like fleece touted as lighter and stronger

than sheep’s wool. Calling on their Andes Mountains heritage, they

respond to New Jersey winters by sleeping outside in a snowstorm or

— something we can relate to more easily — they adapt to our

summers by lying in front of fans to cool off.

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Alpacas for Alternative Farmers

Much more than just a pretty coat or nice disposition, the alpaca

is a growing agri-business in this country; it’s the darling of

"alternative

farmers" who, wanting to realize a compound profit on their

investments,

breed alpacas. The LoVerdes’ Fleecy Dale Farm is such a good example

of alpaca heaven that if we could choose to come back as any animal

in the next life, we should put in now for Fleecy Dale.

Anyone with feminist leanings, though, should come back as an alpaca

guy. In that life, you’ll have a name like "His Majesty" to

conjure with and be referred to as a "herdsire," your company

will be much sought after, and you’ll "settle" any number

of females.

"Bare-hoofed and pregnant" is the basic job description for

"the girls," as the LoVerdes refer to their females. Their

11-month gestation with a single offspring is followed by about three

weeks "off" after giving birth (except for nursing, which

continues for six months) before they’re re-bred: Same old, same old.

In both cases, a warning: although your alpaca name

may be scenic, suggestive, or one to command respect —

"Katahdin,"

"Precious Lullaby," or "General Schwarzkoff," for

example — as an alpaca, you won’t respond to it. However, you

will produce a humming sound that some consider soothing, and an

attention-getting

alarm, a "high-pitched whinny," as one breeder describes it.

"Packa, packa, packa!" That call, accompanied by a human’s

waving arms, moves the multicolored herd in the desired direction.

Of course, if you can remember plastics and Dustin Hoffman you may

also recall chinchillas and the chinchilla farms that entrepreneurs

of decades past envisioned, with exponential revenue curves tied to

the creation of fashionable chinchilla coats. But the alpaca has some

sterling, politically correct qualities that make the animal seem

just right for the 1990s and beyond:

Low-maintenance. An annual shearing and occasional

nail-clipping

are all it takes.

Earth-friendly. Alpacas are easy on pasture because they

have a top dental pad, or gum, and their feet are padded; they don’t

emit an odor that announces their presence; and they use communal

dung piles — they are easy to clean up after.

Nice dispositions. They are mild-mannered with

curious-to-timid

personalities.

Stress-reducers. As a promotional pamphlet says, they’re

"a stress-free investment you can hug."

Oh, yes, non-controversial. Unlike chinchillas, alpacas

don’t have to be killed to realize the dividends.

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LoVerdes Bios

It’s hard to believe the LoVerdes didn’t set out to raise

alpacas.

But now they’re hooked, and happily so. Both working in high-tech,

high-stress careers, the LoVerdes have found relaxation and

satisfaction

— not to mention profit — doing something completely different

after business hours. They can come home and immerse themselves in

all things alpaca, "rather than fighting with a computer,"

as John puts it. Lauren mentions how they enjoy going out to the barn

and just watching the alpacas.

Until the birth last August of Francesca, the couple’s first child,

Lauren was a radiologist with Radiology Affiliates of Central Jersey,

working out of its Hamilton office. Now on leave, she speaks with

such enthusiasm about Fleecy Dale’s alpacas — around 25 of them

altogether, including babies, or "crias," with three more

due anytime now — that she could muster regular sightseeing

parades

to the farm. She’s in charge of the animals’ health and nutrition,

and she maintains meticulous records on sales, breeding, bloodlines.

John LoVerde, a computer graphics consultant whose primary client

is the Hillier Group, the national architecture firm based on

Alexander

Road, handles Fleecy Dale’s marketing and acquisitions.

Their rural Lambertville property, set in Hunterdon County’s rolling

hills, came with a red barn. This inviting structure prompted the

couple to consider raising some kind of animals, and their research

and visits led to alpacas, still exotic in the United States, with

those sterling qualities.

Now numbering about 15,000 in the United States, where they’ve been

for only about 15 years, alpacas are becoming the "in"

livestock

to breed — not for their hides (only in South America are they

slaughtered) and not even especially for their fleece. Not yet. Right

now, giving careful consideration to bloodlines and registry, the

object is simply to raise them, to establish the animal as a viable

investment, or in some cases — for instance, with gelded males

who weren’t suitable for breeding — as pets or 4-H projects.

Even though Lauren says that if daughter Francesca, "says packa’

before she says mama,’ I’ll be very unhappy," both LoVerdes seem

smitten with their Fleecy Dale herd. They refer fondly to individual

idiosyncrasies and arrange schedules to be home when crias are due.

"We like to pretend we’re helping," Lauren says.

Most alpaca mothers know what to do. They deliver on their own, and

within 45 minutes the cria is walking; in an hour or two, the baby

starts nursing. Usually, little midwifery is needed — except for

Allante, who gave birth in mid-August and for a few days, maybe

because

she was a first-time mother, rejected her cria. So surrogate parents

Lauren and John stepped in until "the light bulb went on and

Allante

became a model mother," Lauren says.

A list the LoVerdes keep posted on their refrigerator gives some

insight

into the business: The list tracks eight "1998 Alpaca Births,"

from June through mid-October. Its three columns show the female

(mother),

sire, and due date. At this writing, Samantha Cocoa, Auburn Sky, and

Savannah were still waiting, and Curry, "a three-time mom,"

had delivered early and without incident. Lauren theorized that the

weather and barometric shifts had hastened her August 27 due date.

Pregnancy definitely affects the personality of alpaca females, Lauren

says. Given that motherhood is their continuous occupation during

an average life span of 20 years, anyone thinking of buying a female

should make her acquaintance during pregnancy — her default

condition.

More accessible than the refrigerator is the Web site:

www.fleecydale.com.

The LoVerdes have news from various alpaca shows, as well as the

updated

1998 birth list, and the 1998 sales list. A bred female named Ruby,

expecting this month, was sold for $25,000. Shania, a brown haired

alpaca with white face, is being bred to Macusani’s Majesty (silver

grey) for an April, 1999, birth, and she is on the block for $22,000.

A brochure published by the Alpaca Owners and Breeders Association

claims that alpacas are "the world’s finest livestock

investment."

Supply will continue to be small compared to demand, in part because

alpacas reproduce slowly and mass production via embryo transplant

is unlikely because of there is "no available supply of host

females."

Then there is the fleece, which the owners association says is

"several

times stronger and much warmer than sheep’s wool." The going price

is said to be from $2 to $5 an ounce and an alpaca produces five to

eight pounds a year.

After the April shearing this year, the LoVerdes sold their alpaca

fleece to another breeder who in turn sold it to "fiber

people"

with whom Lauren has connections. Although the handling of alpaca

fleece is only a cottage industry in this country, it will grow and

eventually be consolidated The national organization of owners and

breeders is moving toward a fiber co-op allowing alpaca owners to

pool their animals’ fleece; then, a significant quantity could move

through re-tooled mills and energize the wool side of the market.

But all that’s the long-term plan, John says; it may take 30 years.

"Right now, the emphasis is on breeding."

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Fleecy Dale Farm

Fleecy Dale started in September, 1995, with an initial investment

of about $50,000, most of it going to the purchase of three female

alpacas. LoVerde says the tax advantages of alpacas are

"tremendous,

because the purchase price is depreciable." The farm saw a profit

in the second full year, he says, and they’re "ahead of the curve

in terms of break-even."

The LoVerdes are missionaries for alpaca raising. Their literature

says they regard others who might be considering it as friends, not

clients, and that’s the truth. Not only do they welcome visitors to

Fleecy Dale ("Just phone first so we’re sure to be here,"

says Lauren), but they also offer farm tours and seminars on raising

alpacas. Coming up: Two Saturday seminars — on investing,

Saturday,

September 19, and "Small Breeders’ Guide to Success,"

Saturday,

October 17.

On the fencing around the Fleecy Dale pasture, a yellow "Alpaca

Crossing" sign stands boldly. It will soon be joined by another

sign that explains what alpacas are. Although passersby are interested

in the unusual animals they see at Fleecy Dale, they’re not always

sure what they’re looking at.

One alpaca breeder leads to another; it’s a small network of people.

In Lawrenceville, Diane and Leon Rosenberg also raise alpacas. Diane

says they "backed into it" for farmland assessment purposes

after buying their 20-acre farm off Route 206. Including

"Angus,"

a cria born earlier this summer, their nine alpacas are intelligent

and curious as well as easy to take care of, she says. As a knitter,

she has long known their fleece is wonderful, and "we don’t have

to eat them."

The Rosenbergs’ herd numbers eight "Huacaya" alpacas, which

are fuzzy looking, with crimped fiber (think poodles), and one

"Suri"

alpaca, the less common kind, whose fleece is silkier and flatter

(think Afghan hounds). They’re all different colors. Citing Linda

Walker, of Stockton, as a pioneer in this area, Diane Rosenberg is

also aware of at least one other Lawrence Township family that raises

alpacas.

A fledgling industry now, alpaca-breeding is experiencing significant

growth. Who knows, before long, we may see a variation on the American

Kennel Club. After all, alpacas are already registered and carefully

bred. Next, we might see alpaca ID tags issued at town halls, as

happens

now for other domesticated animals, and veterinarians as used to

alpacas

as they are to cats and dogs. Can T-shirts — or alpaca investment

clubs — be far behind?

— Pat Summers

Fleecy Dale Farm, John and Lauren LoVerde, 89

Harbourton-Mount

Airy Road, Lambertville 08530, 609-397-1149. Web site:

www.fleecydale.com.

Top Of Page
Introduction: Between the Lines

Who remembers the crash of 1987? Even though we all

know that the stock market doesn’t drive the economy, it still seems

useful to compare this summer’s market slump with the October, 1987,

decline. That sell-off, you may recall, was accompanied by a sharp

downturn in Princeton area housing prices. Housing deals that were

headed for the closing table were suddenly called off by buyers whose

capitalization was less than it had been a day or two before. Maybe

the market didn’t drive the entire economy, but a lot of people in

the Princeton area recall the months following the 1987 crash as a

fairly bleak period of time.

So what can we look forward to in the months ahead? If we could

predict

the stock market we wouldn’t be writing this column in the midst of

a Labor Day weekend, of course. So we won’t even hazard a guess about

the stock market. But we will offer a few observations about the

Princeton

area economy:

First we don’t expect the market dive to make much of a difference

in the housing market. As U.S. 1 reported October 8, 1997,

contemplating

the 10th anniversary of the 1987 market decline, housing prices never

did soar again after that downturn. From 1987 to 1997 Princeton area

housing rose on average about five percent — not per year but

for the entire period. What didn’t go up very much isn’t likely to

go down very much.

Then there’s the diversity of the Princeton economic base. A few days

before the 1998 downturn our boss was the guest speaker at the

Princeton

Corridor Rotary Club. He tried to cover the waterfront of growing

industries in the Route 1 corridor, mentioning information processing,

biotech research, Sarnoff spinoffs, and pharmaceutical contract

research

organizations, among others. When the boss was done one of the

Rotarians,

Ed Kornstein, president of ORS Automation at 402 Wall Street, noted

politely that the boss had failed to even mention the growing video

research and development industry in our midst.

Moreover, Kornstein pointed out, the infrastructure to support such

high technology enterprises is vastly superior than it was even a

few years ago. And the commitment of Princeton University to

collaborate

in certain situations with private enterprise is another positive

development (U.S. 1, July 22). When Kornstein came to town the only

receptive university was up the road in New Brunswick.

And then there are the people. We dressed the boss up again just last

week and sent him off to the groundbreaking of SJP Properties’s

project

across the street at 7 Roszel Road. The Commons, a 300,000 square

foot project, is the area’s first speculative construction in years.

Joe Bonner, a vice-president for Prudential, one of the funding

sources,

admitted he was nervous about any speculative project but that

Prudential

was committed to "taking prudent risks in the right markets with

the right people."

We think he’s got a point. For that reason, while we urge you to read

Pat Summers’ intriguing story about alpacas beginning on page 50 of

this issue, and while we will understand if you buy a small herd of

these cuddly creatures, we also recommend that you not give up your

day job — or your common stock investments.

Corrections or additions?


This page is published by PrincetonInfo.com

— the web site for U.S. 1 Newspaper in Princeton, New Jersey.

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