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The addicting appeal of alpacas

Grosse Ile’s Gibraltar Bay Alpacas is home to 58 alpacas. PHOTO/MICHAELA SCARSELLA

BY MICHAELA SCARSELLA
OU News Bureau

After starting out as a volunteer on an alpaca farm in 2000, Richard Steffke quickly fell in love with the animals living on Grosse Ile, an island in the Detroit River.

When the previous owner died in 2008, Steffke and his wife, Gail, purchased the farm and named it Gibraltar Bay Alpacas. The couple now work together every day to care for the docile animals that he described as “addicting.”

Gibraltar Bay Alpaca has nearly every one of the 16 registered colors that alpacas can come in. PHOTO/MICHAELA SCARSELLA

“We love what we do. It’s all reflected,” Gail Steffke said. “We don’t get tired of each other.”

Fifty-eight alpacas live on the farm, but not all of them belong to the Steffkes. Some are boarded for $100 a month.

Alpacas, native to South America, have only lived in the U.S. since the late 20th century. Being that they are camelids, they are social animals and thrive in groups. The two types of alpacas — suri and huacaya — come in 16 colors registered through the Alpaca Owners Association Inc.

“We only raise huacayas here,” Richard Steffke said. “[As] a suri’s fleece grows, it looks like long dreadlocks. Huacayas are the puffy-looking ones.”

Each alpaca can produce between 5 and 10 pounds of fleece a year. Most alpacas are sheared in spring. Gibraltar Bay shears the animals in May.  

Once sheared, the fleece, also known as fiber, can be used to create yarn for clothing items such as socks, sweaters and scarves. Gibraltar Bay sells these goods at the farm’s store.

“The finest of the fiber of these animals is all about the diet,” he said.

Alpacas typically grow to 5 feet in height and range between 100 and 200 pounds. A 100-pound alpaca can eat 2 pounds of food a day.

“The alpacas eat hay. Their hay consists of alfalfa, timothy, brome,” he said. “The hay an alpaca eats you wouldn’t want to feed a horse.”

In addition to their fiber, alpacas are prized show animals.

“We do shows with them. We’re currently prepping for a show with them now for October 6, 7, and 8 in Lansing,” he said.

To keep the alpacas show-ready, the farm maintains a strict health regimen, which consists of monthly weigh-ins, deworming every 45 days and trimming of teeth and toenails.

Aside from their health, alpacas face other hazards, such as coyotes. The alpacas are brought inside each night to protect them from danger, but during the day their strongest form of defense is their keen eyesight.

If faced with a serious threat, pregnant females can abort their baby with hopes that the predator will go for the dead carcass rather than them. To combat this, males have been placed closer to the entrance and woods that line the farm.

The reproductive process of the alpaca is unique. Five to seven days after mating, the female is known to spit at her male partner if she is pregnant. Their gestation period lasts about 355 days from that point.

Each female is only capable of producing one baby a year. Multiples do not occur because of health risks. Since buying Gibraltar Bay, the Steffkes have delivered 118 creas, or baby alpacas.

The farm is open to the public and welcomes hundreds of visitors each week. Admission is free, but donations are encouraged.

Gibraltar Bay Alpacas is at 8545 Groh Road in Grosse Ile. (734) 675-6220.

 

 

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Posted by on Oct 5 2017. Filed under Featured article, Wayne C.. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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