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
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
proprietors of Fleecy Dale Farm on Harbourton-Mount Airy Road in
who introduced us to the little-known animals and the business
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
Alpacas’ faces and fleeces differ widely. Some alpacas have long
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
rug — others are less densely covered. They can look haughty,
or cutely goofy.
Non-aggressive and disease-resistant by nature, alpacas are
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.
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
farmers" who, wanting to realize a compound profit on their
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
"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 —
"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
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:
are all it takes.
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.
"a stress-free investment you can hug."
don’t have to be killed to realize the dividends.
It’s hard to believe the LoVerdes didn’t set out to raise
But now they’re hooked, and happily so. Both working in high-tech,
high-stress careers, the LoVerdes have found relaxation and
— 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
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
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"
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
she was a first-time mother, rejected her cria. So surrogate parents
Lauren and John stepped in until "the light bulb went on and
became a model mother," Lauren says.
A list the LoVerdes keep posted on their refrigerator gives some
into the business: The list tracks eight "1998 Alpaca Births,"
from June through mid-October. Its three columns show the female
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
More accessible than the refrigerator is the Web site:
The LoVerdes have news from various alpaca shows, as well as the
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
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
Then there is the fleece, which the owners association says is
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
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."
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
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,
September 19, and "Small Breeders’ Guide to Success,"
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
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
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
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
now for other domesticated animals, and veterinarians as used to
as they are to cats and dogs. Can T-shirts — or alpaca investment
clubs — be far behind?
— Pat Summers
Airy Road, Lambertville 08530, 609-397-1149. Web site:
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
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
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,
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
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
organizations, among others. When the boss was done one of the
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
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
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
admitted he was nervous about any speculative project but that
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?
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— the web site for U.S. 1 Newspaper in Princeton, New Jersey.