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Alpacas provide on-farm business opportunity

When Dennis and Karen Pashovitz moved from Saskatoon, Sask-atchewan in 2001 to farm full time in the Perdue area, one of Karen’s goals was for her to be able to generate some on-farm income. They decided that raising alpacas would fit their situation well, and started with two females, one of which was bred.

“What I liked about alpacas is that you shear them once a year and you get beautiful products from the luxuriant fibre they produce. The fibre is unique and so many useful and beautiful items can be made from it. Plus, I enjoy attending craft sales, telling people about the alpacas and showcasing the products,” she says.

The animals are low maintenance, friendly, and easy to handle and train. They are hardy, and generally disease resistant, and being calm and not easily agitated makes them easy to transport. They require only about two pounds of hay per day, and Karen feeds her animals year round with hay and an alpaca mineral mix.

Alpacas usually give birth to a single offspring called a cria, generally during the day so there’s no need to set the alarm clock to check for nighttime arrivals. They require shearing every spring. “We also trim their toes and give them their shots at the same time,” said Karen. Their animals produce between three to six pounds of fibre every year, and it’s non-allergenic, warmer than sheep wool and good at wicking moisture away from the skin.

At shearing time Karen separates the coarse fibre from the animals’ legs, bellies and necks from the fine fibre of the sides and back areas. Felts are made from the more coarse fibre, while the finest, softest fleece is used for yarns, and the medium fibre is used for socks. Karen has an assortment of hand-knitted items made from the finest yarns.

The fibre is shipped to several different mills across the country — Ontario, Alberta and New Brunswick, and once the fibre is returned, Karen hauls out her dye pots.

“The dyeing is super fun. You never know what kind of colours you’re going to get and there are no two batches of yarn that turn out exactly the same. Each one is unique.”

Karen has several knitters who create the handmade items and says the alpaca socks are the most popular, being excellent for hunters, skiers, or anybody with cold feet. The handmade teddy bears and rugs she has are brought in from Peru. She sells her products out of her on-farm store called Prairie Fire Alpacas — The Little Country Alpaca Gift Shop, a beautiful cedar structure that was brought in and renovated. It’s perfect for her two-day open house she holds every September. This will be the third year she’s held the event which is promoted by Alpaca Canada. “Visitors can drive to any of the participating alpaca farms on this weekend, see and feed the animals and check out the products. We have a concession set up so people can stop for a burger and some refreshments or spread out a blanket on the lawn and enjoy the afternoon.”

The couple’s herd has grown to about 40 alpaca, and Karen was thrilled when one of her male alpacas, called Tornado, won the Supreme Champion at a show in Red Deer in 2010. “We’ve since sold Tornado, and he’s been an eight-time Supreme Champion and won at every show he went to,” says Karen. One of her future goals is to continue breeding show animals.

Although she was a city girl, Karen says she’s adapted well to living on the farm. Besides raising alpacas, the couple farms over 4,500 acres of wheat, canola and lentils, and she feels the farm is a great place to raise their two children, Tasjia and Jessy.

For more information, contact Dennis and Karen Pashovitz at 306-237-4442; email [email protected] Their open house is on Saturday and Sunday, September 28 and 29 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Pashovitz farm near Perdue, Sask. †

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