By Jordan Cohen
The sight of alpacas grazing on Ohio farms used to be a rarity. Not anymore, as this weekend’s AlpacaFest at the Eastwood Expo Center clearly demonstrates.
“We’ve got 260 animals from three states, so you can see how much interest there is in alpaca farms,” said Lori Fish, president of the Ohio Alpaca Breeders Association, which is sponsoring Alpaca-Fest.
Fish said she is not surprised by the growing number of Ohio alpaca farms, which she estimated at 350. “More farmers have them for breeding, but they’re expanding and getting into [selling] fiber from the alpacas.”
Jo Anne and Terry Leonard agree. They operate Sweet Criations (pronounced cree’ations) Alpaca Farm in Salem. The name is a variation on the Spanish word cria, which means baby alpaca.
“They are gentle and inquisitive, and each has their own personality,” said Terry Leonard, as one of his alpacas, Cupid, poked his head over the cage to see what was going on, as if on cue. “There’s just something unique about them,” said his wife.
“What I like most of all is that you don’t slaughter them,” Leonard said. “They just keep giving and giving.” Alpacas can live as long as 20 years, according to the Leonards.
The animals are sheared once a year each spring. Each one can yield up to 10 pounds of fiber that eventually will be made into scarves, gloves, socks and blankets.
“If you’re going to make something nice and memorable, you want to buy alpaca yarn,” Jo Anne Leonard said. Other vendors also extolled the quality of alpaca fleece.
“Their fiber is lighter and warmer, and it doesn’t have lanolin like lambs’ wool that can [set off] allergies,” said Rob Davis of Somerville, whose company processes harvested fiber from alpacas. “It doesn’t itch either.”
AlpacaFest, which took place for the first time in Niles, also is a competition reminiscent of dog and horse shows. Farmers bring their alpacas onto a large area of green sod in the center of the building where a judge reviews each one and awards ribbons based on structure, uniformity and brightness of fleece.
Nelson Bindas, who is raising 15 alpacas at his Stoneboro, Pa., farm, said that a champion is chosen for each color. His entry, Sterling Silver, a 2-year-old gray male, did not win first place this time, but is a previous champion.
Bindas said he and other breeders are aware of the growing demand for alpaca wool. “We’re seeing more markets for their fiber, and now you’ve got more spinners and weavers,” Bindas said.
AlpacaFest also features a number of finished articles from the animals’ fiber including sweaters, vests, gloves and blankets for sale. The event opens today at 9 a.m. and concludes at 4 p.m. Admission is free.