The Tinkhams have been breeding and raising alpacas since 2003, and on Sept. 29 and 30 the public will get a chance to get an up-close look at the interesting animals. That weekend, the Tinkhams’ farm will be one of many alpaca farms across the country that will be participating in National Alpaca Farm Day. It is sponsored by the Alpaca Owners and Breeders Association, and Kathy said the organization plans to make it an annual event.
Alpacas are part of the camelid family, which includes llamas and camels. They are indigenous to South America and bred for their fleece, which is much softer than wool. There are two different breed-types: huacaya (pronounced wah-ki-ya) and suri (surrey). The Tinkhams raise only huacayas, which have fluffier fleece than suries.
Rick used to build homes in Nashville, and he and Cathy moved to Trigg County with their son, Kyle, in 1998. They said that while driving through the area about a decade ago, they decided they would like to buy a farm and settle down in a quiet town. They stopped by a realtor on a whim and found a spot to build a house and a barn. The Tinkhams, who call themselves “animal people,” raised cattle for a while, but they cost quite a bit to maintain and they didn’t have enough land to turn a decent profit. Of course, there was another reason why cows weren’t such a great fit.
“We always knew what was going to happen to them when we sold them, and we kind of got attached to them,” Kathy said.
While driving around northern Ohio on vacation, Rick and Kathy came upon an alpaca farm. They said they had never heard of the animals before, so they talked to the farm owner about them and began researching the industry on their own. After about a year, they bought three alpacas to start out, just to see how they liked it. After four years, their farm has grown to 23 alpacas, which includes seven males and 15 females.
“Most people who start out with one or two always end up getting more,” Kathy said. “You can’t stop, kind of like Lay’s potato chips.”
The Tinkhams said there are many advantages to raising alpacas, as opposed to other animals. Rick said they don’t consider themselves “farm people,” but one doesn’t really have to know anything about farming to get started. They consume far less than cattle or horses, eating only about one to two percent of their body weight each day. Rick estimated that most years, they only spend about $100 to feed each animal. They don’t have upper teeth, so the likelihood of being bit and injured is pretty low, he said. They do grow what he called “fighting teeth” on the sides of their jaws, but those can easily be clipped with toenail clippers. Their toenails can also be easily clipped the same way.
Rick said that far less land is needed to raise alpacas compared with cattle. One can keep up to 10 alpacas per acre, he said. They have padded feet like a dog, rather than hoofs like a goat’s, so they don’t tear up the soil. They are small, measuring an average of about 36 inches from the withers and weighing an average of 150 pounds. They are also mostly docile, so these two factors make it possible for almost anyone, including children, to deal with them.
For the rest of this story, read this week's Cadiz Record.