Maureen Macedo is getting her alpacas ready for their annual meet-and-greet with the public – all 83 of them, including three babies born in the past week.
Her place just south of Turlock is taking part in National Alpaca Farm Days, a chance this weekend to see why these creatures native to the Andes have caught on thousands of miles to the north.
“They’re an easy-going animal, very easy to take care of, and their fiber is delightful,” said Macedo, who with husband Larry owns Macedo’s Mini Acre on Golf Link Road.
The event also will involve farms near Modesto, Los Banos and Catheys Valley in Mariposa County, among hundreds across the nation. Owners will talk about how they breed and care for their animals, demonstrate how they use the fleece, and sell alpaca products.
It’s an oddball of an animal, with a body that evolved to survive on high mountain plateaus and a face that’s as adorable as can be. Breeders sell alpacas for a few hundred to several thousand dollars, depending on their fleece quality and other traits. Their fiber draws premium prices thanks to its softness and 22 natural colors.
Macedo’s day job is teaching science and yearbook at Blaker Kinser Junior High School in Ceres. She has a degree in genetics and has worked as a researcher in animal nutrition.
She has raised alpacas for about a decade and loves to talk about their qualities: They eat pasture grass and hay and produce manure that’s ready to use as fertilizer. Their padded feet do not disturb the soil. And they yield fleece that Macedo, a fiber artist, spins into yarn that goes into many creations.
Alpacas, a cousin to llamas and camels, have been domesticated for more than 5,000 years, according to the Alpaca Owners Association, based in Lincoln, Neb. They have been popular in the United States since the 1980s, serving as pets, fiber producers and breeding stock.
The animals live an average of 20 years and weigh 100 to 200 pounds as adults. Each can produce about 3 to 6 pounds of top-quality fiber and about the same amount of lesser fiber each year.
Lilly of the Valley Alpacas, just east of Modesto, is taking part in the weekend event. Owner Nancy Lilly expects hundreds of people to come and hear about the animals’ origins, touch their famous fleece and shop for items made with it.
“An absolutely amazing creature!” she said.