BY MARY WICOFF
COVINGTON, Ind. —
To a casual visitor, the eight alpacas — and one newborn — at Carli McMahan’s home might all look alike with their fuzzy heads, slender necks and long legs.
But the teenager knows them apart.
“They all have different temperaments and personalities,” she said. “It’s interesting to see how they mix.”
Sometimes, she just grabs a book and reads nearby, while an alpaca sniffs her hair. Or she and other family members will simply watch them as they graze or interact in their corral. The animals communicate with various sounds.
At times, the alpha male will attack another male, and the two will rear up, spit at each other (nasty stuff, usually made up of regurgitated food), and wrestle for dominance.
“They’re fun to watch,” her father, Chad McMahan said.
The family, which also includes mom, Nicole, and brother, Alexander, 14, lives near Covington, Ind.
Taking care of the four females, four males and a newborn male is preparing Carli for her dream of becoming a veterinarian. She graduated in January from Seeger High School and finished a semester at Danville Area Community College. She’ll continue at DACC in the fall, and later transfer to Purdue or the University of Illinois.
“I’ve always loved animals,” said Carli, who’s almost 18.
She’s had a lot of practice, having grown up around animals, including dogs, ducks, rabbits, goats and chickens. She used to spend summers on her grandparents’ horse ranch near Williamsport, Ind.
She even learned how to raise newborn Labrador puppies after the mother died.
Carli decided to raise alpacas in order to earn an FFA state degree through the Supervised Agricultural Experience (which she didn’t finish). Last summer, she saved the money she earned detasseling corn, and bought six in August. She bought two more in March.
The males are: Holmes, Watson, Ace and McGraw; the females are Daphne, Dora, Autumn and Loralie, who gave birth to a male last Sunday.
An alpaca is a domesticated species of South American camelid. It resembles a llama, but it’s smaller. In fact, alpacas are too small to be used as pack animals, and are valued for their fiber.
Carli has already collected six 31-gallon bags of alpaca hair. The animals are shorn for the summer because their coats get too hot; however, the hair around their heads and legs are left for protection.
She’s been practicing on a spinning wheel with other fibers, and attends a knitting group. Once she masters spinning, she’ll try fashioning the alpaca fiber into something.
The alpaca fleece is soft, warmer than a sheep’s wool, and 100 percent hypoallergenic because it has no lanolin. Without lanolin, it does not repel water.
“It’s like feeling a cloud,” she said, describing a baby alpaca’s coat.
Carli and her family have a lot of stories about living with alpacas. They try to describe the various sounds that the animals make, including a high-pitched shrieking when there’s potential danger around — serving as an alarm system for the family.
When one alpaca sounds the danger alert, the others line up to see what’s happening. Sometimes, it’s just a deer or a dog. In fact, deer often jump the fence and graze peacefully with the alpacas.
Carli likes many things about the alpacas, including their self-sufficiency. However, they’re not for everyone, she said. They require some work all at once — for example, the animals are all shaved at one time, and their teeth and feet need to be trimmed.
Still, they’re gentle pets who are interesting to be around, and their fiber and manure can be money-makers.
It looks like Carli is on the right path to achieving her dream of becoming a veterinarian.
To order alpaca manure for use in gardens, flower beds or houseplants, call (765) 299-3041 or (765) 301-0683, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. The manure is sold in 40-pound bags ($10) or 5 pounds ($3). A portion of the profits goes to local 4-H and FFA groups.
The Pets column runs every four weeks. If you would like to have your pet featured, contact Mary Wicoff at 477-5161, send an e-mail to email@example.com or write to Commercial-News, 17 W. North, Danville, IL 61832.