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Black Forest Alpaca Extravaganza

Southeastern Colorado Alpaca Breedersí 17th Annual Alpaca Extravaganza, a family friendly event, was held in November at the Black Forest Community Club in Black Forest. The event featured 11 vendor booths offering craft demonstrations and alpaca products from raw fiber for spinners and felters, rovings and batts, yarns for crafters and handmade and commercially made clothing like sweaters, gloves, socks and hats.Four alpacas in two outside enclosures were available for feeding and demonstrations. Peter Ziek and Chris Schade, two of the eight original founding members of SECAB, were answering questions from children and adults alike regarding alpaca ownership, care and history.Ziek and his wife, Barbara, owners of Wild Hair Alpacas LLC, a 35-acre alpaca farm located in northern Black Forest, got into alpaca farming 22 years ago. ìIn 1985, about 1,000 alpacas were imported to the United States from South America. Five other imports followed and then the registry was closed,î Ziek said. Alpacas must be bred in Northern America now to be registered. The Zieks started with two pregnant females for $15,000 each and now own a herd of 95 Huacaya alpacas. They offer crias (alpaca babies), as well as adult alpacas for sale. They produce fiber from their herd in most of the 16 color variations recognized by the Alpaca Owners Association. ìBlack seems to be a fashion color,î Ziek said. The Zieks also offer free alpaca manure to local gardeners.The annual June shearing of Ziekís alpacas is a major event. ìWe have a lot of people, volunteers, who come out ,,, itís a big undertaking,î Ziek said. Colorado is a great place for raising alpacas. ìItís high, itís dry, it doesnít get too cold or too hot; Iím not worried about heat stroke like many of the alpaca owners do in Arizona, Texas and Louisiana,î he said. ìThey do great in winter.î After shearing, the fiber gets sent to a mill to be washed and combed and it comes back as roving, batts (felted material) and mill spun yarn to sell.Roving is fiber used by hand spinners like Claudia Swenson, an owner of Buzz n Humm Farm in Monument, who demonstrated hand spinning on her wheel. ìRoving is whatís considered most versatile in the alpaca wool world. You can use it not only for spinning, but also for felting, for a variety of things,î Swenson said. ìTo learn, I took a class in Black Forest and rented a few different spinning wheels to see which one I liked best, and I settled on this Ashford from Australia,î Swenson said.ìLast year, I sent two skeins to the national fiber contest, one I spun myself, the other I blended with hemp. The one with the hemp won first place, and my spinning won second place.îAlpacas can grow to be as big as 200 pounds. ìThey are very smart and likeable animals. But they are part of the camel family so they will spit,î Ziek said. ìWhat we find, most of the time they spit at each other. When we start putting food out, they get possessive and start spitting but once the food is out, they all eat alongside one another. They are a herd animal, and we wonít sell fewer than two. With males, we recommend at least three or four to prevent fighting.î Ziek feeds his alpacas baled orchard grass he buys from a trusted Wyoming grower. ìThe No. 1 predator for alpacas are the neighborhood dogs that owners allow to roam free. We have a guard llama as we lost one alpaca to a local Husky. It was a rude introduction to animal husbandry for us.îAlpacas live 15 to 20 years, but Ziek has two females that are 22.5 years old. ìYou have to be prepared to be in this for a long haul.î Ziek added.Chris Schade, the owner of Our Red Barn Ranch, also showed off two of his alpacas. As he lifted his alpacaís (Leroy) upper lip, he pointed out an interesting fact. ìThey have no upper teeth,î Shade said.The Alpaca Owners Association ( will hold its 2023 Mazuri AOA National Alpaca Show in Denver March 17 through March 19 at the National Western Complex. More than 600 alpacas will compete to be the National Supreme Champion.

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