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Sustainable Table: All About Alpacas

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JACKSONVILLE, Ore., — From beginning to end, alpacas are the poster animal for sustainability. There are 26 alpacas on Rolling Hills Alpaca Farm outside of Jacksonville. Owner Jeanne Davidian spins her fair share of the fiber from her herd, but come June most of what’s known as the “first cuttings” will make the short trip to a family owned mini mill in northern Oregon.  The fiber returns as scanes from which Jeanne makes all sorts of things. In the shop which doubles as Caprice Vineyards tasting room, visitors find blankets, scarves, hats, mittens, purses, fly tying kits, needle felting designs, sweaters and more.

“This is actually from one of our white animals,” explained Jeanne as spun green fibers. “It’s been dyed with Kool-Aid. There are several natural dyes you can use throughout the property.” The orchard and vineyards provide wine, dandelions and walnut skins, all which lend their rich colors to the alpaca fiber.

Alpacas are relatively low maintenance and are considered a sustainable animal. Not only can their fleecy coats be used to make everything from shawls to pet beds, but alpacas will eat almost everything. “They eat poison oak. They eat blackberry bushes. They’ll eat rose bushes,” Jeanne said with a laugh, “And christmas trees! They love christmas trees!” Christmas trees are few and far between, the Alpacas at Rolling Hills eat mainly orchard grass.

Hembras, or female alpacas provide milk for their cria, or babies, but they are not considered a milk animal. Native to Bolivia, Chili, and Peru alpacas are commonly found on the menu. “In the United States, of course, we name them, and well, you can’t eat something that you name,” said Jeanne who has named all 26 of her alpacas.

Rolling Hills specializes in breeding alpacas and alpacas breed something else sustainable: manure. An alpaca’s three stomachs ensure the manure is weed free and alpacas tend to relieve themselves in the same spot, making for easy cleanup. “At first, I tried to give it away, but no one would take it. So, I put a price on it and now I can’t keep it here,” said Jeanne.
The manure’s temperature also makes it a “hot” commodity. “It’s not a hot fertilizer so you can put it directly on all your plants. You can make an alpaca tea out of it and pour it on your house plants. It’s very high in phosphorus, potassium and nitrogen. Literally, you can a shovel full and put it on a rose bush.”