NEW COLUMBIA, Pa. — Known for their luxurious fleece, alpacas are a fiber artist’s dream. Alpaca fiber is four to six times warmer than wool, as soft as cashmere, hypoallergenic and moisture-resistant. For Pam Rosado, 66, owner of Country Vale Alpacas, her herd of 12 alpacas was “meant to be.” Her alpaca venture came at a time when she and her husband, Paco, were looking for a sustainable use for their pastured land.
Pam Rosado recalls the time she was selling her homemade wares at a craft show in 2015, when a woman approached her.
“I was selling shawls that I crocheted, and a woman came up to me and told me that alpaca fiber was the best,” she said.
The woman also mentioned that she had six friendly and curious alpacas looking for a good home. Alpacas are members of the camelid family, which includes camels, llamas, vicunas and guanacos. They originated in the Andes Mountains in South America around 5,000 years ago.
Rosado didn’t think much about her future farm life until Paco came home one night and mentioned that he, too, had heard how prized alpaca fiber was. She felt strongly that opportunity was knocking.
“At the same time, we had acquired an additional acre on our property.”
Since the animals do not have hooves, but rather two toes, they do not fall into the category of livestock. This proved to be a helpful loophole with Rosado’s local zoning office when she began setting up her alpaca business.
After the initial six alpacas, Rosado adopted six more and now has a herd of 12, made up of two alpaca breeds. There are five Suris, which make up only 10% of the overall alpaca population and have long silky locks. The other seven are Huacayas, which have dense, fluffy fleece.
The alpacas have an average lifespan of 20 years. Every spring, Rosado’s alpacas are sheared and the fiber is sent to a mill. Six months later, she receives the yarn in natural colors.
Since she and her husband knew very little about raising alpacas, they attended weekend seminars in Annville and Bethel, and joined several Facebook groups to educate themselves. They also constructed fences and a barn.
“They eat second-cut orchard grass and they each get a supplement of a cup of alpaca-llama feed every day,” Pam Rosado said.
They do require monthly “maintenance,” receiving shots that protect them from life-threatening parasites, plus nail trimming and teeth trimming.
The couple said that having the alpacas drew onlookers almost immediately.
“People would come to the front door (of the house) and ask if their kids could see the alpacas. My boys are curious, timid, smart and gentle and they love to work for treats. It’s a safe environment; the alpacas are great with kids,” she said, smiling.
Pam Rosado said visitors often want to buy her alpacas, but she reminds people that they are herd animals and need to be in a pack of at least three.
Rosado opens the farm seasonally on specified Sunday afternoons for “Family Days,” so kids and adults alike can feed and pet the alpacas. She also hosts on-farm events with live music, yoga, and sometimes cocktails, all among the alpacas. She takes the most well-mannered alpacas to events like the nearby Ard’s Corn Maze and Riverwoods retirement community. In addition, she welcomes small groups like church groups, college students, and daycare groups for pre-scheduled tours.
Frequent patron Johanna Kodlick of Lewisburg said, “I love that it’s this beautiful blend of entertainment and agriculture. It’s such a fun place to bring your family, to visit the animals while appreciating being on a farm in the countryside. The owners take great care of the farm and the animals, and it’s always pleasant to visit.”
Kodlick continued, “Pam is very creative and is always coming up with fun, new ways to get people out (to) enjoy the alpacas and see what sweet animals they are.
For the past two summers, Kodlick and Rosado worked together to co-host “Yoga with the Alpacas” classes at the farm. Kodlick and her musical partner also performed an event called “Concerts with the Alpacas,” where people could bring their lawn chairs, and food and beverages. The visitors enjoyed the outdoor show while petting and feeding the alpacas.
The COVID-19 pandemic threw many challenges at the Rosado family, especially because so much was unknown in the beginning.
“The whole year of 2020 was lost,” Pam Rosado said. “I didn’t know if alpacas could get (COVID-19) or if they could spread it to people. And I didn’t want the transfer of the COVID-19 virus from people, because they touch (the alpacas) noses with their hands when feeding them.”
Rosado said the COVID-19 virus hit her particularly hard and she ended up in the hospital for several months. She said she is still experiencing long-haul symptoms of the COVID-19 virus.
Retail Store Significant Revenue Source
The revenue from the on-farm activities are boosted substantially by the offerings at Rosado’s retail store. Items for sale include hand-crocheted and woven shawls, yarn and roving, felted dryer balls and felted soaps from the Rosado’s alpaca herd. There are also many alpaca products from Peru, which is the alpaca’s native country, including fur toys, sweaters, throws, scarves, hats and gloves.
The socks, which range from $16-33, are the most popular item by far; customers rave about their warmth, softness and moisture-resistance. Rosado said she had a customer at the Covered Bridge Festival in October who bought 20 pairs of socks to give as gifts this holiday season.
Another popular, albeit unusual item is a felted bar of soap. The felt, which is essentially a felt bag, serves as a reusable loofah and washcloth that is a natural and gentle exfoliant. Rosado said the soaps last longer since they are wrapped in fiber and are easier to grip. The lather also stays in the fiber, so it yields less soap scum. When the soap is gone, the felted bag can be reused.
Rosado sells these items at local craft fairs and markets, including the Artisan Corner Co-Op, on Chestnut Street in Mifflinburg. The co-op has a lot of traffic during the town’s annual Christkindl Market in December.
Rosado has even found a use for the alpaca manure, sometimes called “black gold” because it is excellent fertilizer. Since alpacas have three stomachs, it takes 50 hours to fully utilize their food intake, resulting in bean-shaped pellets that are dry with little odor. The manure is high in nitrogen and potassium and low in phosphorus. The manure can be bagged in biodegradable, tea-bag-type plant bags, and placed into watering cans for a natural fertilizer. It is labeled “Paca Poo” and the manure “tea” can also be used as a deer repellent.
Rosado is working with Bucknell University students through Bucknell’s Small Business Development Center to add retail items to an online store for additional retail sales.
In the coming spring, Country Vale Alpacas will offer glamping sites to the public (“glamping” is upscale camping, or camping with comfortable amenities). Rosado said the camping structures have been ordered, as well as composting toilets. As her husband approaches retirement in March 2025, they plan to build an additional structure so they can also offer overnight indoor accommodations on Airbnb.com as a celebration of their 10-year anniversary of the agritourism business.
For more information about Country Vale Alpacas, search for the farm on Facebook or go to CountryValeAlpacas.com.