We were featured this past month (April 7th to be exact) in The Marketplace, a special publication within the Wellsboro Gazette for local farms/businesses like ourselves. What an honor it was to have Natalie Kennedy at our home and business asking how we got started raising alpacas.
Here is the article Ms. Kennedry wrote:
For a Westfield couple, raising alpacas is a little bit of Heaven on Earth. Leonard and Bonnie Klingman own and operate Heaven's Gate Alpacas. "We're both Christian people and thought to name it something that would honor God, " explained Leonard. Both Leonard and Bonnie survived car accidents, he when he was 19, and she at age 44. "We came close to Heaven's gate once, and this way, Heaven's Gate is here, and these are God's creatures, " added Bonnie. Even the names of the alpacas born on the farm are derived from Biblical sources. There's Zechariah, Jumping Jehosephet, Lazarus (he nearly died several times), Noah (who was born just before a severe summer storem), Nevaeh (Heaven spelled backwards) and Shiphrah.
The 80-acre farm is home to 14 alpacas with 5 more due to arrive this summer. It all began in 2007, two years after the Klingmans relocated from central Pennsylvania to Westfield. "When we originally moved, my idea was to raise black Angus but somebody," said Leonard, with a significant nod towards Bonnie, "didn't want little calves being ground up." Instead they started to research alpacas after seeing them during a visit to the Harrisburg Farm Show. The animal's intelligence and gentle nature intrigued them, and their large, liquid brown eyes sealed the deal. In July 2007, they purchased two females, both with crias (young alpacas) and a gelded (neutered) male. A third female was offered to them soon after, and they purchased that one as well. The next few months were spent clearing a locust grove - the trees were eventually used for fence posts -- for the animals' arrival in late September.
Alpacas are members of the camel family. Indigenous to the Andes Mountains in South America, the alpaca is raised for its fleece. The fleece has several unique qualities. It is hypoallergenic, soft rather than itchy like wool, and is both warm in the winter and wicks moisture (like perspiration) away from the skin. The average alpaca yields about four to six pounds of fleece. The fleece is then spun into yarn or felt and then turned into clothing, hats, scarves, socks, gloves, etc. There are two types of alpacas: the huacaya (wah-KI'-ya) and suri (surrey). The only difference is the fleece. The huacaya has a crimp to the fleece, giving it a fluffy, teddy bear-like appearance. The suris have no crimp in their fleece, thus the fibers cling together, similar to dread locks. The huacaya fleece is shorn annually; the sury every two years. The Klingmans raise huacaya alpacas. "The funny thing when you shear them is they have to figure out all over again who the dominant one is," Bonnie said. "It's like they lose their ego. Sometimes, the dominant one ends up being different, at least for a while."
Alpacas come in 16 colors, ranging from white to various shades of fawn, brown, grey and black, and several patterns. The color preference varies among breeders. "Some people have a color preference for white because you can dye that," Bonnie noted. "The color people are trying to find now is grey," Leonard added. "Grey seems to be the top value animals."
One of the Heaven's Gate herdsires, Dark Templar, is a dark silver grey. At the shows, alpacas are judged on their conformation (body structure) and their fleece. Templar has won several ribbons at alpaca shows, which increases his value as a sire. His current breeding fee is $2,000.
Alpacas are herd animals and generally do not do well alone. They need the companionship of other alpacas. Most farms keep a gelding or two as companion animals for both males and females. Care of alpacas is simple, but not fool proof. They cannot eat leafy hay like alfalfa or clover. Instead, they dine on orchard grass hay. Food, water and shelter are necessary as well as some regular venerinary care like de-worming. The timid animals also need a good protector; the Klingmans use two Great Pyrenees to guard the herd from marauders like coyotes.
And the reports of alpacas being spitters? Well, admits Bonnie, that's true although it's usually only when they are pregnant and more irritable. Normally, alpacas make a humming sound to communicate.
The future of Heaven's Gate is in God's hands, but the Klingmans hope to increase and improve their herd and start a retail shop in their basement. They currently take their woven items to local farmer's markets.