AlpacaNation Q&A with IMAGINARY ALPACA RANCH & FIBER STORE
Bon Van Meter
925 CR 72, Helena, OH 43435
AlpacaNation: How did you become interested in alpacas?
IMAGINARY ALPACA RANCH & FIBER STORE: In June of 2006 we visited Alpaca Meadows on a bus tour. That day a baby was born during the lecture at the maternity pasture. How exciting, it looked so easy. I already owned alpaca rugs and knew how soft and silky they are. I studied the financial brochures they had all the way home on the bus. Then we started on the internet learning about alpacas, agisting, and the financial opportunities. Looking at the prices, we thought we could by a breedable maiden and get started in the business in a couple of months, as long as we could board them.
AlpacaNation: How long have you been in the alpaca business?
IMAGINARY ALPACA RANCH & FIBER STORE: Happy Anniversary to Us! Two years in July 08. We have too many alpacas and would like someone to buy a few from us. But I like all of them and love the new crias and the yearlings.
We have learned to spin alpaca from attending spring shearing (much DIRTIER than that clean episode on Dirty Jobs!!!), to dyeing, and through to crocheting finished products.
We have trained and shown our alpacas in the ring at the Big Shows. We even have ribbons.
We have learned to pare down the finances and question costs and make better decisions before spending our dollars.
We have started apprentice judging in the ring!! I REALLY prefer small classes of 4-6 animals at this stage!!!!
We have driven from Lake Erie down to near Washington DC and back with Alpacas in our mini van. Caught, haltered, and transported dams with crias for drive by breedings.
Still have to attend and be directly involved in my own pacas birthing. So far they are sneaky easy birthers!
AlpacaNation: What sets your farm and herd apart from others in the industry?
IMAGINARY ALPACA RANCH & FIBER STORE: The majority of my breeding dams are full peruvians. I actually have some pretty nice stock and it has been commented on by other farms and in the show ring.
I am willing to help others without a price tag. So I don't just sell my farm, if I think another farm has stock you are looking for, I will refer you to them.
I have an industry view, rather than my own interests. Of course, if there is no revenue, then eventually there is no farm. But advice is FREE and unencumbered!
I actually see many advantages to agisting my alpacas. I don't have to worry about employees, I can put in as many hours as I want to, but I am not tied down to the farm. So I can promote this aspect of the alpaca lifestyle to those who like some involvement in alpacas and their potential profits but not the time to commit 100% or be tied down.
Eventually, as I grow and develop my herd, breeders will realize the quality of my stock and service and choose to work with me.
AlpacaNation: How did you decide on your farm name? Is there a special meaning behind the name?
IMAGINARY ALPACA RANCH & FIBER STORE: Our Ranch is Imaginary because right now we have to agist. We live in town and will for a few more years. But the word Imaginary is also special because my daughter and business partner, Magina, is in the middle of I-magina-ry. Is is also a lot of fun having an Imaginary Bank Account, Imaginary Credit Cards, etc. It's all a real business, but the name keeps in the FUN aspect of everyday alpaca ownership!
Why Ranch and not Farm? Growing up out west, farmers raised crops and ranchers raised animals.
We are also considering setting up Alpaca sculpted Boxwood plants or topiaries, just to keep up the Imaginary theme, since we can't have real alpacas in town. Just all the Fleece and the gardens love the 'paca poo!
AlpacaNation: What is your greatest achievement or favorite memory since you started raising alpacas?
IMAGINARY ALPACA RANCH & FIBER STORE: First, we took 3 alpacas to Nov 10-12, 2006 OABA ALPACAFEST, after being in the business 4 short months, and took home 2 firsts, 1 reserve champion, and 1 5th place ribbon.
Second, I found out I passed my 3 day alpaca judging clinic, and can now apprentice as an ALSA judge.
My favorite memories are already many, the first seeing the baby born on the bus tour to Alpaca Meadows, the second, out playing with the newborn crias. Firecracker was always into things, and Kodiak loved playing peek a boo.
I always de-stress when I can just lean over the fence and watch the crias pronk or be in the pasture and see who wants to check ME out and get kisses. One girl I'm training now comes looking for me, eats grain out of visitors hands, and let us feel her fleece. Interacting with the alpacas is my best feel good time of the day!
AlpacaNation: What advice would you give to those just getting started in the industry?
IMAGINARY ALPACA RANCH & FIBER STORE: Remember the 4-H story of the child that started his farm with a chick, they grew, sold, and traded up to a pig, then a calf. Starting slow and developing revenue can get anybody into this business!
Use the fiber, spin or felt, have it made into rovings or yarn.
Buy and wear alpaca socks, a knit hat, gloves, a pashima stole.
Research to find your best starting point. Set your price for your 2 girls and jr herdsire (unrelated). They can be collected one at a time and BOARDED in the beginning until you have 3-4 to bring home (they are HERD animals).
Decide Huacaya or Suri. White is Plentiful, less expensive, you can dye the fleece for rainbow colors. If showing, white is harder to win, need more expensive animal.
Now get good conformation in dams, best fleece quality, blanket wt, density, style.
Boys have to be complete package, luster & lock in Suri, crimp, density, fineness in Huacayas. Conformation is hardest to improve, fleece quality easiest.
AlpacaNation: What has been your biggest lesson learned in terms of breeding?
IMAGINARY ALPACA RANCH & FIBER STORE: Fleece characteristics are the easiest to correct by breeding to the right stud. It is harder to correct conformation.
Your first animal should be proven, an easy birther with plenty of milk.
Consider size of dam and stud when choosing. Don't breed midget maiden to giant herdsire! The fetus is supposed to only grow as big as the womb, but the huge head or the massive legs may cause a birthing problem.
Sometimes Reproductive Examining a maiden relieves a lot of months stress & worry, wait to breed her until she is developed and ready inside. Behavior testing can be valuable but this isn't always reliable with maidens.
Have a GOAL for each dam as well as your overall herd. What do you need to improve for a better quality cria? Don Julio said if you use his accoyo herdsires you can catch up to his breeding program in 4 GENERATIONS. Otherwise, it could take 40 Years before your quality is as good as ACCOYO!! The lesson is to breed the best you can afford each
AlpacaNation: What do you tell prospective buyers who look at the small profit the alpaca fiber produces compared to the daunting prices of alpacas?
IMAGINARY ALPACA RANCH & FIBER STORE: Get involved in the end product. If you learn how to card and spin the fleece, arts and crafts always bring good money and saves on the doctor bills due to stress relief!
At this time fiber is secondary to cria sales in income. A dam will produce 6-10 crias over her lifetime. Those can all be free if you grow your herd and own a quality unrelated herdsire. Or you could trade breedings with a nearby rancher.
Breed for heavy prime blankets and conformation to carry it. Accoyo has a herd in Peru with 20-22 lb. blankets. Some US stock is shearing over 10 lb blankets going up to 18. Breed with this purpose. Every 3 years we should see major improvement and in 10-20 years US Stock should pay all its annual expenses with good profit in the fleece, the dam should pay for herself in her cria sales, the male with his stud fee and fleece.
AlpacaNation: Tell us about yourself...
IMAGINARY ALPACA RANCH & FIBER STORE: I grew up on the eastern desert side of Washington state, went to school with all the local farmers and ranchers kids. Dad was an agent for the RR, retiring as a VP. We didn't have stores within 40 miles and only went to town every 2 weeks. So you learn to do for yourself as much as you can and how to stretch a dime. Then I moved to the western wet side and finished high school. I climbed MT Olympus, 8000 ft ascent, 17 mile trip, with ice axes across the glacier. We had 3 rope teams and a great time. I joined the Air Force at 19 and travelled stateside, South, Midwest and throughout Europe on short duty assignments over 6 years. I lived and worked in diversified Californa for 17 years. Life has been a great adventure. You have to rise above calamity, be flexible, and have a receptive mindset to enjoy living. I've helped raised hubby's 2 boys and now with our own Magina. Hubby's cancer will take him away before that job is finished, but we hope to have a strong future in the alpacas
AlpacaNation: What steps did you take to prepare for raising an alpaca herd?
IMAGINARY ALPACA RANCH & FIBER STORE: I'm still taking them. Slowly building up. By the time I have my own farm, I will be able to set it up, repair, and maintain it!
Ensuring that the boarding farm has the facilities available to care for and keep records of my animals. Sometimes I can suggest improvements I have seen on other farms. Sometimes better marketing.
Mostly I do research, take the courses and farm tours, talk to a LOT of farms at the shows, investigate online.
My equipment to date is what I need for the show, stall supplies, halter, leads, banners, muck shoes, show clothes, display items, business materials. Some meds.
I carry towels and dental floss in the car so when I go out to see my animals, I can get to basics for crias until I can get help.
I now lease a barn, paddock & pasture with a few guard llamas. So I muck out the barns, check the fences, manage herd health, breedings, vet calls, births. I hired out daily feeding, maintenance on the well and fences. The herd love