| 2014 Q2 | story by LIZ WESLANDER | photos by STEVEN HERTZOG |
One day while Claudia Hey was searching the internet, she happened across some alpacas for sale. After some deliberation, and almost no preparation, Claudia and her husband, Bob Hey, ordered a trio of the wooly South American creatures.
“I strictly went on the idea that they were cute,” says Claudia. “This is not the way to pick alpacas. I would not do this again.”
Bob and Claudia stumbled into the business of alpaca ranching, but Claudia grew up on the former dairy farm that is now home to their alpaca ranch, Ad Astra Alpacas. She and Bob moved back to the farm site near Baldwin City in 2003, and Claudia says it didn’t take long before she started fantasizing about bringing the farm back to life.
“I had wonderful memories of growing up on the farm, and it made me sad there weren’t any animals here,” says Claudia. “I wanted to have something to look at, but I knew didn’t want to milk cows, and I didn’t want to raise anything I’d have to kill, because that would just break my heart.”
Despite their lack of knowledge about alpacas, it turns out they were a good choice for the couple. Claudia and Bob have since remodeled the dairy farm to suit alpacas, and currently have a herd of 58 alpacas. Each May, the couple shears the herd, and Claudia then spends the summer cleaning and sorting the fiber. They send the fiber off to be made into yarn and apparel, and then Claudia sells the finished products at her store on the farm from October through March.
“Alpacas are wonderful animals for people who do not have livestock experience,” says Claudia. “They are very easy to take care of. They don’t require a lot of feed, they respect the fence, and they are gentle.”
Claudia, who is retired, says the alpacas are personable creatures, each with a distinct personality. She has taken alpacas to visit children at the library and to nursing home to visit residents – always with positive results. She also says the business side of the operation is starting to turn some profit. Bob works full-time as the president of Hey Machinery Company in Baldwin.
“It’s kind of the best of both worlds,” says Claudia. “I get to have this experience with these animals, and now the products pay a little.”