Some of the animals sell for nearly $25,000
By STEPHEN SIFF
VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF
John and Susanne Thatcher keep their retirement funds in stock.
In five years, their furry, bouncy, prolific Peruvian critters have out-multiplied the market. They are naturally housebroken, keep their fields neat, and will ride in a minivan if no trailer is available.
All you need to get into the Alpaca game is a few acres, some fence, a barn and $15,000 for a low-end model.
Make that $30,000. Alpacas are herd animals, and they hate to be alone. Budget an additional $1,300 a year on each one for life insurance, and perhaps $900 more for vet bills, according to "Financial Aspects of Alpaca Ownership," a booklet by the Alpaca Owners and Breeders Association.
"This is our Florida condo running around out here," said Susanne Thatcher, 64, looking out on the herd of 21 romping around behind her state Route 46 home. Her farm, Sunburst Alpacas, started with five in 1997.
Thatcher is not the only alpaca breeder in Trumbull County, but her herd is the oldest and largest, and her animals some of the most successful. The gang picked up seven medals at a national alpaca show in Louisville, Ky., in May. London, a sweet-tempered beast with an elegant long neck, gentle eyes and Traficant bouffant, was grand champion at the Ohio State Alpaca Fair.
"Everywhere we go, we have won ribbons," said Angela Thatcher, 15. She and her sister, Samantha, 13, help out at their grandparents' farm and show the animals at fairs four times a year.
All that cute doesn't come cheap. Some of Thatcher's alpacas are for sale, with prices up to $24,500. They all carry microchips under their skin for identification and have been DNA tested to ensure blue blood, Susanne Thatcher said.
"One of the nice things about raising alpacas is that you don't eat them," she said.
No beasts of burden
Alpacas won't carry stuff either, unlike their bigger brothers, the llama. They are shorn once a year for their wool, which is spun into pricey yarn.
The typical alpaca gives up seven pounds of the delicate hair a year, which, at $3 to $6 an ounce turns a pretty penny.
The real money, however, is in their genes.
Sunburst Alpacas will have an open house from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sept. 7 and 8 for people interested in investing in their own alpacas.