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Shear joy of fleeced friends

Agua Dulce ranchers drawn to alpacas

Posted: July 19, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: July 18, 2012 10:08 p.m.

Two-month-old alpaca Alexander lives at Sweet Water Alpaca Ranch in Agua Dulce. A baby alpaca is called a "cria" until the age of 6 months.

 

At Sweet Water Alpaca Ranch in Agua Dulce, the 30 alpacas with really nice hair are the envy of sheep the world over.

Alpacas, which look like small llamas, were once cherished by the ancient Incan people for their cashmere-soft fibers, or fleece, which are warmer and lighter than sheep wool.

And the colorful fibers are hypoallergenic so they don’t itch like the memory of a chunky woolen sweater.

“Anything you make out of sheep wool, you can use alpaca fiber (instead),” said Cecilia Secka, 10-year owner of the farm.

Alpacas are sometimes kept as pets, but they are mostly sheared for their fibers.

Secka boards, breeds, sells and shears alpacas at her farm, providing a stud service, fiber products and public visits for anyone as curious as an alpaca.

“They are curious animals,” said Secka. “They have the most beautiful eyes. You just want to sink into them.”
Originally from Sweden, Secka lived in West Hollywood until the late ‘80s working in hotel management.

“We wanted to move to the country,” she said.

Horses were her initial interest, but while watching TV one day, Secka stumbled upon alpacas. 

“They are very sweet and easy to take care of. They basically take care of themselves.”

“The three horses probably take as much time as the 30 alpacas,” Secka said of the animals on her farm.

The low-maintenance animals produce a versatile product.

After a yearly shearing, the fibers are spun into yarn. Finer fibers make lightweight lace, jackets and dresses, while heavier fibers make hats, purses and rugs.

Coming in 22 different natural colors, alpaca fleece is attracting attention from the high fashion industry, though Secka mostly sells raw fibers to local people who knit, crochet and spin.

Along with yarn in varying shades of white, beige, brown and gray, Secka sells alpaca scarves, socks and silky soft teddy bears in her farm shop.

Though alpaca meat is eaten in South America, it is a controversial product in the U.S. and Secka’s farm doesn’t slaughter.

“When you see alpacas for the first time,” Secka said, “you just have to fall in love with them.”

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