Alpacas – Happy On Farms Or Acreages

Salute To Agriculture Special Issue April 23rd, 2015

Alpaca Hucaya female

Alpaca Hucaya female

An unusual acquisition, hard work and vision turned a Leduc County couple’s dream into a multi-faceted agri-business.

Leanne Sept fell in love with alpacas when she and husband Kevin Sept researched natural options to keep the grasses short on their acreage, and they were introduced to those furry, long-legged beauties, originally from Peru. As alpacas can be kept in a fairly contained area, such as 9 heads per acre, nine animals were purchased by the Septs in 1998, to come and live on their 3-acre property. As the alpacas reproduced, more space was needed.

The Septs and 20 alpacas moved to a 160-acre Rollyview farm that was to become Sunny Hill Alpacas; now their three dogs and three cats share the farm with 102 alpacas. The initial farm purchase took place with then-partners, Leanne’s sister Renee and her husband Darrell.

Alpacas are a bit skittish, but their natural curiosity and playful nature make them fascinating to watch; wisely, the Septs use a bit of their “relax time” to visit with their alpacas, to tame them a bit.

Shearing 102 alpacas is a huge annual task that takes 3 days, in early May. The Septs have a regular crew of 6 to 8 “regular shearers” which includes professionals Ernie and Denise Gamroth. Calving occurs in June, the gestation period being… 11.5 months! To continue to improve the Sunny Hill Alpacas stock, the Septs add new quality imports to their growing herd each year.

The alpaca’s thick fur makes it a sturdy winter animal, and as soon as we humans think of getting out our spring apparel, the alpaca is ready to find a puddle and a bit of shade to cool off in.

For the Septs, this initial investment into breathing, photogenic and likeable grass mowers became a farm business, a tourist attraction, and… a textile venture! All year-round, requests are made to tour the Sept farm, and through an agricultural loan, a mill would eventually add a new facet to this farm venture.

The alpaca fur is a sought-after fibre, believed by some to be superior to llama fibre, in that “it is a cleaner fibre, easier to work with and warmer” claims Kevin Sept. Leanne strongly believed that buying a fibre mill would be a natural progression to their growing herd. Her mother, Anne Adams of Mayerthorpe was the catalyst of this wish becoming reality: her friend owned a mill purchased in Prince Edward Island, and she found herself overwhelmed with orders. The mill would successfully relocate to the Sunny Hill Alpacas farm in 2002, and Twisted Sisters Fibre Mill was born.

The Twisted Sisters Store, housed in a trailer on the farm, displays an impressive variety of knitted and crocheted alpaca fibre outerwear. Quality hats, mitts, socks, scarves, duvets and many more items are offered at the store and at show exhibits like Northlands’ Farm & Ranch Show and the Arber Greenhouse Christmas Craft Sale in Millet. “Grannie Annie” is a creative, skilled knitter and last season knitted more than 200 pairs of mitts; this year, she hopes to surpass that number. Leanne also knits while keeping a fulltime job off the farm, Renee crochets wonderful items and Marlene comes up from Calgary to do her share: three hard-working sisters!

Kevin Sept has been working full time at the mill and on the farm for nine years now, his background in hydraulics serving him well. He laughingly shares that all these machines came without owners’ manuals. His informative tour confirms that most of the original machinery has now been replaced with modern units. The process of transforming raw alpaca fibre into a soft and usable fibre is a complex one.

Kevin is articulate and enthusiastic when he shows off the mill’s equipment. The large washing machine that handles 6 lbs of fibre in 3 hours, the drying racks that are placed outdoors in summer, the picker and carter that remove debris from the fibre, the skein and ball winders, the steamer that softens the yarn together constitute a lengthy process that is applied to Sunny Hill’s harvested alpaca fibre, as well as the fibre sent to the mill by BC-to-Quebec clients.

Alpacas can be great acreage companions, and they can also become a rewarding agri-business, such as the Septs’ ambitious and successful Sunny Hill Alpacas and Twisted Sisters Fiber Mill.

 

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