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Alpaca farming is a way of life for some in Boone County

Monday, March 16, 2009 | 10:14 p.m. CDT; updated 10:36 p.m. CDT, Monday, March 16, 2009
Just one day old and experiencing sunlight for the very first time, the male alpaca baby, or "cria," King's Jester receives a reassuring touch on the neck from Osage Alpaca ranch owner Rob Long as the mother, Penny, watches guard. Alpacas are a domesticated species of South American camelid, and had never been raised in the United States until as recently as 1984.

If you happen to be heading north on Old 63 between Prathersville and Hinton, make sure to not miss the huge pack of alpacas roaming around a 20-acre patch of Boone County earth as if it were an Andean mountain valley.

Not long ago in 2005, Rob Long went all in with the foreign but ever more popular animals, which have long been domesticated in South America for their especially high quality coat or “fiber,” as it is properly called. Having heard the peculiar looking camelids made for good ranching and an even better sweater, he got started with a few on a larger ranch he had along the Osage river down in Ozark country, and it wasn’t long until he moved the always increasing herd to Boone County to be closer to his home and concentrate on alpaca breeding full time.

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“They look like somebody bred a colorful sheep with a giraffe,” Long said. “Their behavior is a third cat, a third dog and a third horse. So, they’re really the perfect animal to raise, if you know what I mean.”

Alpacas have been domesticated for thousands of years in places like Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and Chile. In fact, Long read that they are one of the three originally domesticated animals in the world, which may explain their gentle, curious and intelligent demeanor.

They resemble and are much smaller than llamas, but unlike their spit-prone cousins, alpacas are not raised as beasts of burden. It’s their wool-like fiber that everyone loves because it doesn’t itch or hold in moisture. Essentially, it is the perfect textile and manufacturers stateside are perking up to its value, which is why parts of Boone County are looking a bit more exotic these days.

By the looks of things, Rob must really mean it when he talks enthusiastically about alpacas and all of their wonderful practical uses and adorable characteristics. He’s now raising 75 head, up from 74 this week thanks to the new arrival of King’s Jester, on a clean and professional-looking farm which goes by the name Osage Alpacas.

Sure, there is money to be made raising alpacas. Their fiber is fast becoming the raw material du jour amongst designers hip to “nature’s GORE-TEX,” as Long likes to describe it. But it's when asked about the spirit of his trade that Long notably opens up. “There’s the question in the industry: Are we doing this as a business or are we doing this as a lifestyle? The answer is both,” he said.


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