Missouri Farmers Teaching Kids About Alpaca Fiber

MARSHFIELD, Mo. -- Two women who work with alpacas are trying to change the way people think about wool and fabrics.

Stacy Heydt owns White River Alpacas, a breeding and wool operation with approximately 30 animals.

She said she chose to raise alpacas a decade ago because (among other things) of their mild and sweet demeanor.

"I looked into their eyes," she recalled, "and I touched their fleece and I said, "Oh yes, this is exactly the business I want to go into."

Her neighbor, Karin Koutz, said that she watched the alpacas every morning from her house across the road for several years before deciding to help Heydt with her operation.

Koutz said she loved to listen to the humming noises that distinguish alpacas from llamas from other animals.

"When an alpaca trusts you and they look at you and you click or you whistle to them," she said, "they'll talk to with their eyes."

Heydt said she shows alpacas at breeder shows and sells fair-quality animals to other prospective breeders. She also serves on several national alpaca committees and teaches a class about fibers at Ozarks Technical Community College.

When Koutz joined Heydt a year ago, it was to show off Heydt's alpacas to school groups and other children. One of the class favorites is Snickers, a dark brown animal that wears a royal blue handkerchief around his neck. Koutz lovingly refers to him as "Snickerdoodledandy."

"It's an awesome little animal to learn about," Koutz said. "It's one that you don't typically see every day. I think kids can easily relate to them because of their height."

Alpacas are smaller than llamas and are only used for wool production. Heydt said alpaca wool feels much like cashmere, and doesn't have any lanolin in it.

Part of what Heydt shows children is the process of shearing, washing, spinning and weaving wool. She said she encourages children to connect with a lifestyle they've never experienced.

"It's a craft and it's an art that has been taken away." She said. "We've just gotten into the mechanics, the processing, and all of the new fibers that we're doing. Kids think that clothes come from a box store."

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