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First Graders Welcome Alpaca to Class

ELDERSBURG – The community room at Linton Springs Elementary was abuzz with the chatter of first-graders Friday awaiting a fun and interactive lesson.

The students were told that they were going to meet a new and different creature — one that most of them had never before seen. Even though the animal’s visit was no surprise, all the students couldn’t help but gasp in shock when they saw an alpaca walk into their school building.

Erika Watkins, owner and breeder of Huggable Humming Alpacas in Eldersburg, visited the school with her mother, Cindy, and her alpaca, 19-month-old Monsoon’s Storm Cloud, to talk about the animal with first-graders.

During the presentation, Watkins talked about the different colors of alpacas and showed the students samples of the 22 colors. She explained how she cares for Storm and said he mostly eats hay, grass and grain.

“He loves Cheerios,” she said.

Watkins said she has visited several schools in the south Carroll area with either Storm or other alpacas.

“It’s fun introducing [alpacas] to the kids so they can learn about a new animal,” she said.

Storm apprehensively entered the room full of first-graders Friday morning, but then warmed up to the students, walking around and sniffing their heads. Watkins explained that he is a special alpaca because the family had to bottle feed him for two weeks.

Some of the students said Storm looked like a llama, but Watkins said alpacas are smaller than a llama. Alpacas only get to between 160 and 200 pounds when llamas can grow to nearly 500 pounds, and llamas are much taller.

Watkins also explained that Storm recently looked much bigger, but was sheared for his fleece. Between five to 10 pounds of fleece is taken from an alpaca during a shearing.

The students got to look through a book of pictures to see what Storm and other alpacas looked like before being sheared. First-grader Josh Minnich was looking at the Shearing Day book when Storm came up to him.

“He smelled my head, it was fun,” he said.

Watkins explained that she takes the fleece and makes different items, such as scarves, blankets, clothes and stuffed animals. She often dyes the yarn made from the fleece with Kool-Aid.

First-grader Jayme Fosdick enjoyed learning about the animal and seeing the different colors of alpacas. Storm was not quite what she expected.

“I thought it was going to be taller and older,” she said.

While she was interested in learning about all the items that can be made from alpaca fleece, first-grader Logan Collins thought it was neat that alpacas come from countries in South America.

Mary Ellen Gearhart, special education resource teacher at the school, said the alpaca visit relates to the consumer and producer social studies unit in the students’ curriculum.

“Most kids didn’t know you can shear them like sheep,” she said.

The experience allows the students to become familiar with the animal in the same way they see common farm animals such as cows, chickens or horses, Gearhart said.

“They see how they can be our friends, too,” she said.