Alpacas help family teach value of work ethic

Life lessons | Children take on most of the work caring for 24 alpacas on the Saskatchewan grain farm

OSAGE, Sask. — It all started with a pair of mittens.

Six years after buying hand-knit alpaca mittens at a trade fair and falling in love with the warmth and feel, Glenda Shotter is now knitting her own.

Shotter and her husband, Tim, began building an alpaca herd in 1998, eventually expanding it to 24.

“I just love the gentle nature of the alpaca,” said Glenda.

The Shotters, who operate a 3,500-acre grain farm, decided to raise alpacas with their four young boys in mind. Tim grew up on a Saskatchewan grain farm, learning the value of a strong work ethic.

“I always wanted to be a farmer because of the freedom of being your own boss,” said Tim.

The alpaca herd was added into the farming mix to help give the four Shotter boys a work ethic.

“The boys have to do a majority of the chores and so it teaches them both how to behave around the animals and how to be responsible for something other than themselves,” said Tim.

Because alpacas are relatively small and easy to handle, Glenda said they were the ideal choice.

“The kids do 70 percent of the chores and I don’t have to worry at all because the alpacas are so gentle,” said Glenda.

The four Shotter boys, aged 10, 8, 6 and 5, have become expert alpaca handlers, showing the animals as part of 4-H projects and at Saskatchewan alpaca events. Glenda said her boys have been involved with the alpacas since they were small, so handling them is now second nature.

“I’ve seen the kids become a lot more confident and the shows have allowed them to meet new people and gain lots of experience,” she said.

Alpacas are raised for their fibre, which is the second warmest natural fibre behind polar bear, and is the second strongest next to silk. It’s also known for its low absorption of moisture and high wickability, which add up to a fibre ideally suited for cold Canadian winters.

Glenda sheers her alpacas once a year, hiring an Ontario shearer every spring. A Saskatchewan-certified expert grades the fleece, with fleece from the young alpacas being the most prized. Each animal yields one to three kilograms of fleece, which Glenda sends to mills in New Brunswick and Alberta to be spun.

Glenda buys most of her alpaca products from other producers to sell under the Creekside Alpaca banner at trade shows. Her products range from hats, scarves, mittens and socks to loom-woven blankets made in New Brunswick using the fibre from Creekside Alpacas.

“Ideally, I want to be selling mostly my own product made from our alpaca fibre, but I’ll always import some items,” said Glenda.

Alpaca numbers have increased in Saskatchewan over the last two decades. As secretary of the Sask-atchewan Alpaca Breeders Network, Glenda said the hope is that the industry continues to grow in the province so that a local mill can be established.

SABN has 26 members, most of whom raise alpacas as part of a larger farming operation or as a hobby.

“Anybody who is looking for something different to raise, especially people with young families or those who live on acreages, alpacas are the perfect animal,” said Glenda.

Alpacas require minimal handling and are good for small pasture areas, noting that her two horses eat as much in one week as 30 alpacas eat over the same time period.

“All you really need is a good field fence around the perimeter, a source of water and a simple shelter to keep them out of the wind, rain and snow.”

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