On a picturesque farm just outside of Fort Collins, an alpaca herd roams beneath a ridge of foothills. The same scene is featured on the business card for Daybreak Criations, an enterprise that breeds and shears its 100-plus alpaca herd.
“Criation is spelled like that because a baby alpaca is called a cria,” said the farm and business co-owner Denise Haine. “Crias are typically born in the morning hours, so Daybreak Criations is the name I came up with.”
There are two breeds of alpaca on the farm: huacaya and surrey. Huacaya produce a soft and silky wool, but one that will stretch without any “memory” of its original shape. The wool looks like dreadlocks and has a lot of fiber to it.
“Some of the alpacas out there don’t have as good of a crimp, so we breed the good-fibered males to the girls that need the better-fibered characteristics,” Denise said.
The dining room of Denise’s home has turned into a workshop and store, and alpaca products are available at the farm at 6625 N. County Road 29C at three stages of production: freshly sheared wool in two ounce packages, bundles of yarn or as finished wearable and usable products like hats, gloves, scarves, socks and big yarn rugs.
“Straight surrey is good for things that don’t have to stretch, like lace shawls and brimmed hats,” Denise said. “I like to blend at least half surrey with huacaya for stretchy things like hats and socks.”
Denise will have a booth at the Drake Road Farmer’s Market at 802 W. Drake Road this Saturday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
When your livelihood is alpacas, it can sometimes be difficult to draw the line between the product and pet.
“I thoroughly love being around these animals,” said co-owner Ron Haines. “They’re very therapeutic, very calming. They seem to know what you’re thinking, sometimes.”
Desiree Weatherly is a farm hand at Daybreak Criations and is looking forward to being an animal sciences major at CSU next year.
“Alpacas are a little friendlier than llamas and braver than cows,” said Weatherly, who has a lifetime of experience working with large animals. “If they don’t want to do something, they’ll just spit in your face.”
South America exported between 13,000 and 17,000 alpacas to the U.S. during the ’80s and ’90s.
“It wasn’t very many when you think about it,” Ron said. “You have one baby a year at best. It takes 11 and a half months of gestation, so it doesn’t multiply that fast.”
The business of alpacas is still sustainable because demand is high for the low supply of quality product.
“We’re still kind of like a cottage industry after 30 years. It’s still a specialty fiber, like cashmere,” said Denise. “Cashmere you can’t mass produce. My goal is that (alpaca wool) stays a specialty fiber and that we’re not mass producing because then the value of it goes down.”
On Ron and Denise’s dining room table, there is a sample rug of alpaca from Ralph Lauren. The high population of alpacas in South America produce enough wool to be contracted by a commercial brand like Lauren.
“We just don’t have enough animals in the U.S. to even do a line of sweaters,” Denise said. “In South America, they use the pelt, they eat the meat — they do all that. That would be like using my dog. I just can’t do that. When ours die we bury them.”
Collegian A&E Writer Sierra Cymes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @sierra_cymes.