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Shearing Day Down on the Farm

BY ALLISON T.WILLIAMS

Staff Write


       The alpacas are getting a buzz job, and everyone's invited to watch.

       The fur will be flying this weekend at Cornerstone Farm from 9 a.m. to noon Saturday when shearer Jamie Jones- one of just a handful of professional shearers in the country - and his clippers hit the Windsor alpaca farm to give the fuzzy, docile creatures their annual cuts.

       Jones, in the county for just one day, will be shaving the rich fiber off more than three dozen alpacas, from all three county alpaca farms, that day.  The other farms participating in shearing day are Woodland Trail Farm and Courthouse Pastures, owned by Joe and Kathy D'Andria and Al and Virginia Dillon respectively.

       "It's going to be a lot of fun and very educational," said Chris Wingard.  She and her husband, Daren, and their 8-year-old twins, Katie and Josh, began their farming venture with three alpacas on their 60-acre farm on Spivey Town Road in 2004; today, the family has 16 animals, with two babies on the way.

       "We're doing this primarily to introduce alpacas to the public."

       Alpacas- which belong to the camel and llama families - are still considered relatively unusual in the United States, Wingard said.  There are only 150 alpaca farms in Virginia, with most of the larger ones in the Shenandoah Valley and Leesburg areas.

       Chris Wingard said she fell in love with the alpacas after seeing them at Chesapeake Heritage Festival several years ago.  After a couple of years of researching the business, the Wingards took  their first plunge into farming.

       "It was a dream come true for me," said Chris, who said she always wanted to live on a farm as a child.

       It's grown into a family business for the stay at home mother and her family. Both kids are homeschooled and spend time every day working with their alpaca clan; Daren, a Virginia Beach doctor, spent his recent Friday - and many a weekend recently - working on the barn and network of fenced-in pastures of the animals.

       Even Chris' parents, who moved to Isle of Wight within the past year or so, have jumped in on the farm, Wingard said.  Her father, Guy Bennett, helps out daily on the farm; her mother, Louise, has used the fleece sheared off Cornerstone's alpacas to make mittens, hats and other items that will be for sale on Saturday.

       The shearer will take about five pounds of the crimpy, thick fleece off each alpaca - which ultimately should generate enough revenue to pay the animal's expenses for a year, Wingard said.  It will take the shearer just about 20 minutes to shave each animal's winter coat.

       The fleece will be bagged and labeled with each animal's name, then sent to a textile mill in Georgia to be spun into yarn, she said.  It will come back as skeins - which will also be labeled with the animal's names - that will be sold as yarn or used to make clothes, blankets, and the like.

       "Alpaca fiber has such great potentail," Wingard said. "It's soft as cashmere.  The fiber is stronger, warmer and softer than lamb's wool and it's hypoallergenic.

       "We're hoping to really develop the alpaca wool textile industry but for now, the money is in the breeding."        

       Raising alpacas can be a costly venture; pregnant female alpacas can sell for upwards of $30,000, she said.

       For more information about shearing day, call Wingard at 651-6335.


                                       -Allison T. Williams may be reached at 357-3288 or at                                                                                      awilliams@smithfieldtimes.com