Shearing the wealth

Published 7:58 pm Tuesday, April 13, 2010

It’s not all fluff and stuff.

An annual event at a Windsor alpaca farm holds fun and education for the whole family.

The Cornerstone Farm held its annual shearing day, which is open to the public, on Tuesday.

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“People come and can pet the alpacas, watch them be sheared, visit our store, grab a snack and watch our exhibitors work with the fiber,” said Christine Wingard, who owns the farm with her husband, Daren. “This year, by far, has been our biggest turnout. We’ve had close to 200 people come out. It’s fun and educates kids, too.”

The farm is located on 60 acres outside Windsor and is home to about 60 alpacas.

Beginning in 2004, at their Chesapeake home, “We started with three alpacas — two from a farm in Richmond and another from Peru — that we got to keep our two horses company,” Wingard said. “As it turns out, the horses were a little rambunctious around them, but we did our research and found out there’s quite a benefit.”

Alpacas are easier on the land than horses, because they don’t rip up the ground when eating or with their hooves, and they’re gentle with children, said Wingard, who has three children.

“They seemed to fit the family,” she said of the animals. “They’re a lot like cats, actually. They’ll let you hug and pet them but on their own terms.”

After moving from Chesapeake to Windsor, the Wingards built two animal barns, have another for equipment, and began breeding their alpacas and acquiring them from other farms.

“We knew we wanted about 40 of our own,” Wingard said. “We now have 39, and also board others. There are about 60 on the farm.”

The family works together to care for the alpacas each day — with Christine doing much of the basic caring and Daren, a Virginia Beach doctor, doing duties from ultrasounds to construction in his spare time.

“It’s a great outlet for him,” Christine said. “It’s also been a great way to teach our kids about work ethic and responsibility.”

The family does everything from selling the alpacas to breeding, boarding, fiber sales, educational programs and consultation.

“It’s a lot of things to know how to do,” Christine said. “I never thought I’d be doing all this.”

The final product from the alpacas is their fiber, and Tuesday’s open house gave people a chance to see the process in action. An alpaca yields four to 10 pounds of fiber when it is sheared, which takes 6 to 10 minutes per animal.

“After we shear it, we ship it to Georgia, where it’s spun into yarn,” Christine said. “Some fleeces are sent to competition, and some of the fiber is sent to a cooperative that sells the yarn, as well.”

Some of the Cornerstone Farm’s fleeces have won blue ribbons. The yarn can be used for the same purposes as wool and cotton and has several advantages.

“Knitters are addicted to it,” she said. “It’s a lot easier to handle than wool, and you can use it for anything from clothing to socks and handbags — anything you use wool for. It has so much potential. It is softer and stronger than wool, has no lanolin (wool grease) and is hypoallergenic.”

To help educate the public on alpaca fiber, the Wingards also offer education opportunities, such as monthly health days, group field trips and off-site PowerPoint presentations.

“We even take them to the library,” Christine said. “The kids love them and we like to educate people about the animals.”

While the animals have their economic purposes, for the Wingards, they’re part of the family, too.

“They’re livestock, but they all have names,” Christine said. “We know all their names and personalities. They’re definitely a part of us.”