Chilean Charmers

A Grand Valley family is starting a 4-H Alpaca club, with its first meeting today at 6 p.m.

Tom and April Cox and their children raise alpacas on their Oil Creek Road farm, and eight to ten of them will be available for club members to train and study. The club membership will be limited to that same number, and anyone interested in participating does not need to own an alpaca.

Members will work with individual animals, training them for competitions, like obstacle courses. The course will feature events like walking the animal under clotheslines, through tires lying on the ground and up steps. The work is designed to build a trust relationship with animals and handlers, April Cox said.

She said that the future competitions will also judge showmanship, animal control and participants will be asked questions about alpaca husbandry.

The club has been invited to an obstacle course competition next June at Little Lost Creek Alpacas in Montgomery County, which is northwest of Philadelphia.

Cox noted that club members also keep a record book for the animals, listing weight, vaccinations, toenail clipping, shearing, testing for fecal parasites and fiber testing for grade. The recordkeeping is required by 4-H, although the endeavor is new enough to Pennsylvania that 4-H does not yet have an official book yet.

During the winter months, the club will study fiber arts, such as spinning, weaving and working with looms. Alpaca fiber does not contain lanolin, an allergen for many people, which makes it a good choice for those who want to wear wool comfortably. The fleece fibers are also hollow, and provide excellent insulation.

The 4-H members will dye wool with a mixture of water, vinegar and Kool Aid, which becomes a permanent dye, she said.

According to ilovealpacas.com, the fibers come in 22 natural colors recognized by the textile industry with many blended colors possible. The ancient Incas referred to the wool as “Fiber of the Gods.”

Cox said the Pennsylvania Alpaca Owners’ and Breeders’ Association have a booth at the annual state Farm Show in Harrisburg for fiber arts, and they allow 4-H groups to talk about their work and sell items they’ve made.

She added that there is a growing interest in 4-H Alpaca clubs across the state, primarily in the eastern part of Pennsylvania. Club formation requires background clearances from the state and the FBI, which is reviewed by a board at Penn State University. Cox said, “They gave us the green light.”

The club will meet twice a month, weather permitting, at Tupelo Acres Alpacas & More, 8914 Oil Creek Rd., about three miles south of the junction of Oil Creek and Mickle Hill roads.

For more information or directions, call 814-827-2125 or email info@tupeloacres.com.