Palisade family earns living with bustling alpaca farm
Locals and visitors are invited to support local agritourism by stopping by SunCrest Orchard Alpacas and Fiber Works in Palisade.
Visitors are encouraged to visit the alpacas, learn how the fiber is made and a tour of the mini mill. The tour ends with a trip to the farm store to see finished products which uses alpaca yarn.
“Everyone is welcome to come out and experience the farm and learn about where fiber comes from,” Mike McDermott, the farm’s owner/operator, said.
“Growing up as a farmer and my family farming, I appreciate farming and the time put into it,” McDermott said. “Others may not realize farmers put in 18 hours a day, so it’s good to show the hard work put into the farm.”
For more information on tours, visit www.suncrestorchardalpacas.net or call 970-464-4862.
When Mike McDermott’s parents operated their farm in Palisade, it was full of cows and pigs. Now it’s a bustling alpaca and peach farm under McDermott’s care. Called SunCrest Orchard Alpacas and Fiber Works, it’s located at 3608 E 1/4 Road and it’s open to tours.
“Alpacas are pretty easy to take care of,” McDermott said. “Plus, if you are in the pen with them, they don’t bother you; so it’s nice to sit with them to watch the sunset with a glass of wine.”
McDermott didn’t always want to raise alpacas. Before he purchased the farm, he attended Mesa State College and earned a degree in kinesiology. In 2005, however, McDermott purchased the farm he grew up on to pursue a more peaceful lifestyle. It already had 3,800 peach trees, but McDermott wanted to add animals into the mix. After careful consideration, his family fell in love with alpacas and purchased eight of them.
“It was initially a hobby,” McDermott said. “Back then, owning alpacas were lucrative as the cheapest animal was $20,000.”
The alpacas were then bred and the herd grew quickly. Suncrest Orchard Alpacas now houses more than 45 alpacas, with 10 babies on the way. Each alpaca is named after the wide variety of peaches grown on the farm and surrounding area.
According to McDermott, alpacas (thought to be a cross between a llama and a vicuña, a South American-based camelid) have a soft coat of hypoallergenic hair, which is sheared off and is used to make yarn (an average of six pounds a year). The yarn is used to create clothing products, like socks and hats. The farm also houses two angora goats used to create fur blends for various items. In addition to the animals, SunCrest processes its fiber with an onsite Belfast Mini Mill, which is used to make yarn from the alpaca fiber.
THE MILLING PROCESS
SunCrest Orchard Alpacas and Fiber Works not only processes its own fiber, but it also receives fiber from more than 200 other farms and four designers.
“The raw fiber goes through many steps to make yarn,” McDermott explained.
From start to finish, it takes about 60 hours of work to process three pounds of fiber.
The first step is to wash it for three hours. They use basic washers to clean the fibers of dirt. After being washed, it is air dried for 24 hours, using no heat as that breaks down the fiber.
Once dry, it is sent to the picker, where it opens the fleece up to be processed in the separator (which eliminates any vegetation and separates fine and coarse hairs).
After it’s separated, the fiber is sent through another machine called the Carder — taking the fiber in specific volumes depending on yarn being made — which stretches it to create a rope.
The rope is then taken to the drafter, which stretches the rope into the desired ply (thickness). For example, 100 yards becomes 500 yards.
After being drafted, the yarn is taken to the spinner, stretching it out even more depending on yarn size ratios. It also spins it in the opposite direction. Then, it is sent to the steamer relax fiber to its natural state.
Lastly, the yarn is rolled onto spools or made into skeins (yard wrapped in a loose, long coil), depending on customers’ wants and needs.
For more information, visit http://www.suncrestorchardalpacas.net.
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