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Alpacas Gaining Numbers in New York State

NORTH SALEM — Some quirky-looking farm creatures are making their mark in the heart of horse country.
At 150 pounds, the llama-like creatures are one-seventh the size of a horse, but they have an exotic profile that’s hard to miss from a distance, even if they look more like an animation collaboration between Dr. Seuss and Disney than typical paddock livestock.
More and more, alpacas are growing up in the northern suburbs and across the state, which has added 10,000 alpacas since 2003. The increase makes New York the sixth-largest state for alpacas in the country, with nearly 12,000.

But if these ancient creatures from the Andes Mountains are going to become as popular as horses in northern Westchester County and the farm country of Rockland and Putnam counties, it will not be because of their oddity.
It will be because of their lush, cashmere-quality fleeces, which fiber artists use for everything from knitting to finished suits.
“These animals are relatively high value compared to other livestock and they are relatively low impact,” said Lynn Edens, a North Salem alpaca farm owner who is buying a 47-acre farm on the border with Putnam County and plans to breed up to 100 more alpacas. “So you can have them in the neighborhood without affecting the quality of life of suburban neighbors but also run a viable economic enterprise, and that is hard to do with other types of farming.”
Edens’ new farm, which has been approved by North Salem, would be the latest and the largest alpaca farm in the northern suburbs, where a handful of entrepreneurs have been diligently growing their alpaca business for the past decade.
“Coming from a background in horse boarding, alpacas are easy to care for, and it is a wonderful lifestyle with an amazing community of people,” said Ivy Kirsch Goldstein, owner of Whimsical Acres Alpaca Farm in Montebello. “We are really hopeful for the future. We love the animals and we love the products.”
The appeal of alpaca farming has to with the docile nature of the animal, a camel relative revered by the Incas, and also with its advantages over larger livestock.
Alpacas eat less than horses and they produce less waste, without carrying pathogens such as E. coli or salmonella.
“They really are the green animal,” said Carol Goldberg, a real estate agent with Vincent & Whittemore in Bedford who listed the $9.5 million Red Horse Farm on Hardscrabble Road that Edens is buying. “It is such a great agricultural pursuit because they don’t tear the place up and they take so little out of the soil.”
But an equally important selling point for farmers in the northern suburbs is the ability to cater to customers who want to know exactly where their yarn is coming from.
“Part of why our business is growing is people love the connection to what they wear, just like they do to what they eat,” said Leda Blumberg, owner of Faraway Farm in Yorktown, where her store stocks alpaca garments and yarn that come from her own animals. “They can wear a garment that was created here locally, naturally and organically.”
Only part of the profit from alpaca farming comes from the sale of fleeces. A major part of the revenue is in the sale of the animals.
“The price of everything is so high from deliveries to labor to land,” said Blumberg, who grew up on her family’s 45-acre farm and got into alpacas with her husband to keep the land in farming. “But it can be a viable business if you do it right by knowing the bloodlines and making good breeding decisions and being good at marketing.”
While it may only cost $500 a year to keep an alpaca — a cost covered by the sale of its fleece — the sale of an animal can range as high as $20,000 for a top breeding female. Stud fees can be as high as $2,500.
“The animals themselves are still somewhat exotic by local standards, but the kids on the school bus will wave at them,” Edens said. “I believe in what the farmers are producing and I know as a fellow customer and knitter what is in demand in the marketplace, so I’m optimistic.”