Lynn Cherish is one of those people who not only join the farming community but who also become part of the warp and weft of that community. In weaving, the warp is the tightly stretched lengthwise core of a fabric, while the weft is woven between the warp threads to create various patterns. The various undeniable responsibilities of the farming world are the warp threads and the weft is what humans do to create the pattern of interaction, community and assistance that makes farming more like a family than merely a difficult and time consuming job.
In the 10 years since Cherish has been on Baggy Britches Alpaca Farm with her husband in the rolling hills of Frederick County, Maryland, she has built up a herd of 27 Huacaya alpacas from animals that she purchased initially and then bred herself.
There are two types of alpaca coats: the fluffy teddy bear looking Huacaya coats and the longer shiny locks of the Suri alpaca. The Huacaya fiber can be spun alone but the Suri fiber needs to be mixed with silk, cotton or wool because it is generally too slippery to be worked alone.
Her best year showing them, she says, was when, “London Fog won his class at seven months of age at his first show and then went on to go Dark Colored Reserve Champion at his next show!”
Alpacas are shown in “field condition” which sometimes comes as a shock to those who clip, bathe, trim and fluff other types of livestock. Hauling alpacas to the shows is also less fraught with expense in the automotive department, according to Lynn, although it can be a bit hair-raising for other motorists.
“I was taking some of the alpacas to a show,” she recalls, “and I was on one of the major highways with four of them in my van. Usually they just hop in and lay down for the trip but these were four males and there was a bit of contending for space, so they were standing up. I travel in the slow lane when I have the alpacas in the van and I saw a car coming at high speed behind me. It pulled up alongside, slowed down to stay beside me, dropped back and then pulled up alongside again. I was beginning to get impatient with them when they edged up to the driver’s area and gave me big smiles and thumbs up and drove off! It seems that the driver and his passengers were not used to seeing alpacas looking back at them from the windows in the vans they usually passed.”
She does admit having four males in the same van made for a more testy travel time, though. It seems that when alpacas get stressed or annoyed they will indulge themselves in the same spitting technique that llamas are famous for. There were no overt anger issues, she says, “but I have to admit that a couple of the side windows bore evidence of alpaca annoyance and needed cleaning.”
The major product of alpacas is taken at shearing time, similar to sheep. However it is necessary to differentiate the coats of alpaca and sheep. Sheep give wool; alpaca give fiber — never to be referred to as wool.
Here again Lynn has created a bonding between the fiber folks at shearing time, which occurs in the late spring. Her shearer comes in from Pennsylvania and her Baggy Britches Farm (so named for the look of a full Huacaya coat from the rear) hosts several of the smaller alpaca breeders for the shearing, making it easier for the shearer and for the other alpaca owners as well.
Lynn says, “We do our shearing outside. I can easily remember a few times that we had to do the shearing under a tent because of the rain!”
The premium fiber from the Huacaya alpacas is called “prime” and it is from the neck and body area. Since alpaca fiber is not filled with lanolin like sheep’s wool, it is lighter and contains less detritus that often gets into a sheep’s wool. It can be cleaned by the owners at home with the use of normal household detergents fairly easily.
Lynn has her shearer also work down the alpaca’s legs to get not only a more finished look but also to extend the useful fiber that she collects there. It is not used in the “prime” fiber but she is using it to be woven into a thick mat that can be cut into insoles for shoes (wonderfully warm in the winter!) as well as pads that are used for placing under saddles on horses. She currently has both the western pads and the English cut ones, and her insoles at a premium at the shows that she attends.
Those shows have, in the past, been places like the MD Alpaca Breeders Fiber Festival — a two-day affair held at Howard County Fairgrounds in November — and several other places where her award winning fibers have brought a great deal of interest to her farm.
Lately, though, Lynn and her smallest alpaca, Everlast, have been doing something entirely different. Everlast has passed his physical and his temperament testing and has joined Pets on Wheels. They are going to nursing homes, veteran’s hospitals, hospice centers and other places where a gentle little, hand-reared, fluffy alpaca that looks for all the world like a walking teddy bear can work his own kind of magic between the animal kingdom and those who are lonely, afraid or in pain.
It is a new mission for both Everlast and Lynn Cherish but she says it is exerting a strong pull for the pair of them and it may be where they will spend a great deal more time.