Business feature: Couple in business of raising alpacas

By Gabriel Monte: Freedom New Mexico

Sharon Harris said her retirement plan has four legs, hums and makes great clothes.

Harris is talking about the herd of alpacas she and her husband Wayne Harris raise on their farm in House called Las Rosas Alpacas. She said they have been raising alpacas for eight years.

Alpacas are kin to llamas and are bred for their fleece, said Wayne Harris, an Air Force veteran and retired state employee. Alpaca fibers are used to make blankets and clothing, such as suits and denim, he said.

Unlike wool, alpaca fibers are hypoallergenic, according to Sharon Harris, a dietician who works for the Roosevelt General Hospital and the Plains Regional Medical Center,

“Alpaca fiber is not prickly and does not make you itch,” she said.

Wayne Harris said the 40 alpacas they have produce 200 pounds of fiber, which he sells for between $5 to $10 a pound.

He said he also breeds and sells alpacas, in addition to raising sheep and dogs.

There are more than 100,000 alpacas registered in the country, according to the Alpaca Owners and Breeders Association Web site.

Sharon Harris said they got into breeding alpacas because they wanted to go back to the ranching lifestyle they grew up around. But the conditions in the mountains east of Albuquerque where they lived at the time would not support cattle or horses, Wayne Harris said.

Also cattle required too much land, he said. A herd of 10 to 15 alpacas can graze on four to five acres of land, since they eat only 2 percent of their weight, unlike cattle that eat 20 percent of their weight, he said.

Sharon Harris said she prefers raising alpacas because they aren’t aggressive and gentle.

“I love raising alpacas; I like them because they’re not big, (and) if they step on me they don’t hurt me,” she said. “When you’re out on the field with them they hum to communicate with each other, so its a very peaceful, wonderful animal to be around.”

Sharon Harris said she hopes that by the time she retires they have bred enough alpacas to sell.

“We think (in the future) the demand for alpaca fiber will grow and grow,” she said. “ It’s kind of like a savings account but it’s a cute savings account.”