The alpaca business is booming on N.J. farms
Hair from the animals, native to the Andes, is used to make socks, sweaters, and blankets.
JACKSON, N.J. - Nestled in the forest in Jackson, just down the road from the local high school, a winding dirt lane led to a large fenced area where about 100 docile alpacas awaited their trip to the barn, a hub of activity this day.
It was the annual shearing day at Alma Park Alpacas, during which the alpacas receive their spring haircuts before the warm summer weather sets in. Each alpaca yields between three and five pounds of fiber, which is graded before it is sold to a fiber cooperative, where it is processed and spun into yarn used to make products including socks, sweaters, and blankets.
After the alpacas were carried in, secured by ropes and held down to get their hair cut in assembly-line fashion by a professional shearer, Rosemarie Mogerman, who owns the farm with partner Joe Benford, clipped their nails before they were released into the yard, free of their heavy coats.
New Jersey is home to at least 47 alpaca farms, according to AlpacaNation.com, a website designed to encourage growth and sustainability by bringing the global community of alpaca breeders, owners, and suppliers into a centralized marketplace. Alpacas, which are a little smaller than but related to llamas, are native to the Andes region of South America.
Daryl Goodrich, owner of the 40-alpaca Angel Wood Alpaca Farm in Hackettstown and past president and director of the Alpaca Fiber Cooperative of North America Inc., said he believed there were about 75 alpaca farms in the Garden State.
Mogerman said Alma Park was the second-largest alpaca farm in the state, exceeded by Meadowgate Farm Alpacas in Lawrence, Mercer County, which has about 160 alpacas.
"I know about 100 people who have alpacas in New Jersey," said Mogerman, including several who brought their animals to the shearing event at her farm.
Joyce Calderwood, who has 16 alpacas at her Oakhill Alpacas farm in Mays Landing, said she got into the alpaca business in July when she bought her animals from Mogerman.
"I just love them. I love the way they look," said Calderwood, adding that she originally had wanted just two alpacas for pets.
At the Arrow Acres Farm in Wall, Dee and Don Sherman raise a herd of 10 alpacas that provides fiber that their adult daughters spin into yarn, which they then knit into items such as scarves and hats.
Mogerman, too, sells handmade scarves and hats in the store on her farm, as well as soft, warm socks.
At the Stone Corner Farm in Franklin Township, 32 alpacas are tended each Saturday by members of the Criations 4-H Club of Somerset County. The name of the club is a play on the word cria, which is what a baby alpaca is called.
"The club members pet them, touch them, and play with them, while also learning how to care for the animals," said Sandra Maxwell, who owns the farm with her husband, Tim.
Deanna Farber, 16, of Bridgewater, is one of those 4-H members.
"I've loved alpacas ever since I was 5 and my sister was in the 4-H. I couldn't wait to join so I could be with the alpacas, too," she said.