Twelve alpacas arrived at a Nicasio ranch on Monday afternoon, galloping out of a trailer to survey their new home, their long necks seeming to offer prime views of inland Marin. The ranch, which sells alpacas to breeders and fleece to fiber mills and artisans, is the first commercial alpaca business in the county. Fourteen females will arrive soon to join the 12 stud males that were brought in this week, said Sandra Wallace, who owns the ranch with her husband, Michael Frankel. “The boys like the work. They don’t mind,” said Ms. Wallace, who was an infectious disease doctor for 30 years in La Cañada, near Pasadena. She became interested in alpacas in 2001 while watching an episode of a public television show, California’s Gold, that featured the funny-looking camelid, which are about half the weight of llamas. Her interest bloomed during a vacation to Machu Picchu, and when she returned she began visiting alpaca ranches, of which there are about 400 in the state. Ms. Wallace purchased her first alpacas in 2006, but she kept the business in Yolo County as she educated herself in livestock management, prepared the Nicasio property and closed her medical practice. A large part of her operation involves selling the stud males, which go for at least $5,000 each, to breeders. She said breeding is pretty straightforward. Female alpacas, she explained, are “induced ovulators.” Instead of going into heat at specific times of the year, they release an egg during coitus. (The male also “orgles,” or sings, to the female while mating, which may also stimulate ovulation.) The females are receptive to the males—at least until they conceive. “If they’re open and they want to get pregnant, and they usually do… they lay down. They cush [recline] and let the male mount them. It takes 20 to 40 minutes.” But, she added, “pregnant females will start spitting when the male comes by.” Ms. Wallace also sells their fleece. Unlike wool produced by sheep, no lanolin—a waxy secretion—coats alpaca hairs, so the fleece generally feels softer. Ms. Wallace sells it to larger mills but has also sold it locally to Marlie de Swart, who owns Black Mountain Artisans in Point Reyes Station. There are two main types of alpacas that produce different types of fleece: huacayas sport big soft tufts, like a teddy bear, and suris grow long, lustrous dreads all the way down to their split toes.
This article was amended on June 6.