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Our Valley: Alpacas thrive in Agua Dulce

Fleecy friends flourish on family farm

Posted: January 30, 2009 9:52 p.m.
Updated: January 31, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Calamity Jane and Snow Queen, alpacas on Sonia Marygold's Tanglewood Alpaca Farm in Agua Dulce, roam around their paddock Friday.

 

They're quietly intriguing creatures.

They slowly roam about with their long padded necks, pointy ears, tufts of forehead fleece to shade their eyes and curved lips that make one wonder if they're up to no good or just constantly smiling.

Multiple farms of these animals, known as alpacas, which are related to llamas, thrive east of Valencia on Sierra Highway in Agua Dulce.

Sonia Marygold and her family own the Tanglewood Alpaca Farm off Johnson Road. As an animal lover who grew up in East Los Angeles and always desired to have a ranch, Marygold's lifestyle changed when she saw a magazine ad for alpacas many years ago.

"I always wanted to do this, since I was 14 and went to a farm in San Francisco," Marygold said. "I used to want to breed dogs, but they can be so needy. Alpacas like to be around you, they're curio ... but not needy."

Six months after she saw the ad, Marygold had two alpacas. Ten years later, after moving to Santa Clarita Valley in 1999, she tends about 30 alpacas. Half of them belong to her and the other half she boards.

But she treats every single one with care, and knows them all by name.

"They all have different personalities," she said. "Some are more docile, some more passive. You have to know what each is like so you know when they're sick or not."

Black Foot, the male boss, walked with a dignified gate to check out newcomer Macy's Dancer, the six-time champion male Marygold recently purchased.

"They always give the new guy a hard time," Marygold said.

To the right of the males, some females squabbled over spilled food pellets.

"They spit at each other because they want the food," Marygold said. "Lotti thinks she's the boss here."

A few feet away, Tiramisu, Chocolat and Sharon strolled in the "fatty pen," - they were on a diet, she said.

Alpacas, members of the camel family, have two breed types: huacaya and suri. The white, beige, brown or grey animals originated in South America thousands of years ago, according to information Marygold provided.

Although suris only make up about five percent of the world's total alpaca population, Marygold mostly hosts suris because she fell for what she calls the "exotic-looking" animals.

Their coats drape down in separate, lustrous locks, and the huacaya's coats are crimpy and fluffier, she said.

"Every year we shear," she said. She then sends the fiber to a North-American alpaca fiber cooperative.
Alpaca fiber is used for making knitted and woven items and has become vastly popular in high-fashion countries like Japan and Italy, Marygold said.

Alpaca sweaters can run as high as $500 in some places, she said.

They used to be worn by some Indian royalty, Marygold said.

While there is not enough interest yet for alpaca items to be a commercial market in America, the demand is increasing for American-made alpaca products, she said.

The economy definitely takes its toll on the alpaca industry. Marygold lowered her boarding prices and is forced to pay more for hay bundles.

Still, boarding alpacas "pays the bills," she said. She can also purchase more quality alpacas at a much lower price now.

Marygold, a retired nurse practitioner, works hard along with her husband to tend her alpacas, sometimes waking up as early as 6 a.m. in wind and cold to check on the pregnant females.

But they're easy animals to take care of, she said.

"They eat, sleep, poop and grow ... and give fiber," she said.
She also receives the help of guard dog Maximus.

"He sleeps throughout the day and guards at night," she said.

Marygold said she enjoys being part of the wider alpaca community.

"We all help each other," she said.

Tanglewood Alpacas Web site address is www.tanglewoodalpacas.com. The phone number is (818) 535-5726.

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