Before alpacas, Liz Ferguson said the largest animal she ever had was a 10-pound Shih Tzu. Ferguson and Jose Palma, owners of the farm and breeding business, Nuevo Mundo Alpaca, have lived in the Selbyville area for six years. Originally from Louisville, Ky., while traveling, they kept seeing alpaca farms, and the idea of owning one began to form.
When they settled on four acres nestled among farmland west of Little Assawoman Bay, the plan for an alpaca farmette materialized. For three years, the Nuevo Mundo Alpaca Farm has raised the animals, and the couple creates products centered around alpacas. “We call it Adulthood 2.0,” Ferguson said.
They started with six alpacas, now have 20, and are expecting four or five babies. Ferguson says alpacas are on-demand ovulators and do not have a season to breed. This is why they keep the males and females separated in paddocks. The gestation period is 11 months, and soon after birth, the female can breed again, “That's the alpaca way,” Ferguson said.
Four Acres Living is the retail side of the farm. “We want to promote American-grown alpaca and handmade products,” Ferguson said. Fiber produced by the alpacas is used for varied products, depending on the quality. The fleece is separated based on where it comes off the animal. Around the torso, the fiber is superior to neck and leg fleece. Raw fiber is sent out to a fiber mill that tests the quality, cleans, and makes yarn and roving. The superior, soft yarn is used for yarn to make clothing. The roving is used for rug yarn, felted soaps, and dryer balls, to name a few items. The mill stores the stock of fiber to spin the yarn for use in their large, electronic knitting machines for custom products.
“Shearing is our harvest day. Everything that is coming off these animals is a result of what we have done all year. We harvest in the spring, so the alpacas can be cooler in summer and have plenty of time to regrow for winter warmth,” said Ferguson.
Palma gets ready for the shearing by planning, organizing and cleaning. Area alpaca owners are invited to assist on the harvest day and have their animals sheared, making the process convenient for Mariacher Shearing Services.
The team of shearers is a traveling band of gentlemen farmers from Maine. From March until July, they travel to alpaca farms along the Eastern Seaboard.
At Nuevo Mundo Alpaca farm, harvest is an all-day event like an old-time spring festival when the community of alpaca owners comes together. Most bring their animals along to be shorn and some are offspring from the farm, so it is a reunion of alpacas as well as people.
The business of shearing is smooth yet nonstop. Everyone bustles around doing their part of the process, from collecting fleece and labeling to keeping the workers hydrated.
“As long as there is an alpaca to be shorn, I’m going to keep going,” said Jay Mariacher, lead shearer, when asked if he wanted a break. He offers advice regarding the animals, and checks on the health and well-being of each animal while he carefully and gently removes the fleece.
Part of the process is corralling and harnessing from the paddock into the holding pen, three at a time, where the alpacas get an idea of what is about to happen. The shearers have years of experience and their technique is flawless. The animals are soothed and comforted by Mariacher’s support team.
“Alpacas are prey animals in their natural habitat, so they are not easy to shear like sheep,” Palma said. The alpacas are carefully laid down on a mat and restrained for their own safety. This also offers an opportunity to check the animal over, giving them a little pedicure and some cosmetic dentistry.
Nuevo Mundo Alpaca Farm will be at the Rehoboth Farmers Market 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., Tuesday, May 7, and will drop in monthly on dates to be announced. Also every week at the Nassau Farmers Market 12 to 3 p.m., Sunday, May 12. They bring an alpaca or two for interest and education while selling their handmade products such as felted soap, dryer balls, yarn, outerwear, socks, and alpaca-related items. They are two-year veterans of the Ocean Pines Farmers Market on Saturdays, March 16 to Dec. 28, 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. For more information, go to fouracresliving.com.