EVE-LYNN SWAN The Standard
KAWARTHA LAKES: Back in the year 2000, Kathleen Holmes and her mother, Eileen, worked from home, covering furniture with soft padding and durable fabric, as part of an established upholstery business. Her step-father, Roly Carr, and her business partner, Erma Burkhart, also lived on the 25-acre Salem Road farm, housing horses and a few chickens as well.
One day, Kathleen wrote to an alpaca breeder, asking for information about the camel-like animals she’d seen in the pages of Harrowsmith, a country lifestyle magazine. Only imported to Canada from South America since 1988, the alpaca is a gentle herd animal whose fleece is non-allergenic, soft, warm and durable.
With the letter sent, Kathleen and the other 363 Salem Road residents went on vacation. In Harrison Hot Springs, BC, Kathleen found herself in front of bulletin board featuring an article about a nearby alpaca farm. A visit was arranged and after a few hours in the company of the fuzzy cuties, Kathleen was in love with the huacaya alpaca.
She thought about the alpacas on the long drive home to Manilla, “and when we got home, I still couldn’t shake what it was like to be around these animals.” The huacaya alpaca looks more like a Teddy bear than the less-popular Suri breed, whose hair hangs in longer cords.
Her stepfather sensed something was bothering Kathleen, and when he heard she was thinking about alpacas, he told her to go find some. “I found a farm within a few hours of us, went to visit, and within a few weeks I owned alpacas!”
Three adult females and two babies arrived that September. Two females were pregnant, and the crias, the name for Alpaca babies, would be born in the spring. It was supposed to be a hobby.
In 2002, Kathleen used her needlework skills and fabric knowledge to create Salem’s first alpaca-fleece-filled duvet. Now she sells 200 light-weight, warm, breathable and non-allergenic duvets a year, and has trouble keeping up with demand.
Named after the road, Salem Alpacas was one of the early breeders in Ontario. Their breeding program produced champions for both fleece and physical structure, known as confirmation, and the women helped found the provincial alpaca association. It didn’t take long to reach a herd size of 40 animals.
As word of Salem’s quality stock spread, city dwellers started buying animals and keeping them at the farm. At one time, there were 70 animals on 25 acres and there wasn’t enough room for Salem’s breeding program to expand.
Kathleen began to feel unwell. Thinking mouldy furniture sent by antique dealers for reupholstering might be causing the symptoms, she set aside those types of repairs. Despite the change in work, symptoms persisted.
After testing and treatment, Kathleen began to feel better but didn’t have the energy to look after her aging mother, run th5e upholstery business, and manage the farm. She decided to gradually shift to full-time farming.
With Salem Alpacas receiving most of her attention, Kathleen provided farm services, educational seminars, craft workshops, and tours. Erma, friends, and family helped with shearing. The little farm succeeded in meeting her revenue goals.
As a result of promoting alpaca fibre at shows and events, demand increased for its soft clothing and toys, and a store was added at the farm.
After 19 years, Kathleen still loves alpacas. She says you can think of them as being rather like cats; they’re curious and they like to think it’s their own idea to do something. They are great pets and can be housed in a three-sided shed in a field, fenced with two-inch by four-inch grid wire, at least five feet high.
If you're interested in alpaca farming, three is a good number to keep. Three female alpacas led Kathleen and Erma to a home-based business, centred around really cute animals, managed by two gals closing in on retirement age. Careful, though, because three can quickly become 70. They are hard to resist.
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