MARYSVILLE – The Alpaca Ranch at Strawberry Fields is forever fans of the Beatles.
So much so that owner Chris Sturgeon has named many of his alpacas after them – such as “Ringo,” “Magical Mystery” and “Oblada.”
Sturgeon, a clinical psychologist in Everett, has been raising alpacas for a dozen years. He started with four, and now has 225. Most are offspring of the ones he’s bred.
The “Secretariat” of his herd is “Road Warrior,” who expects to father 20 offspring this year.
“He knows he’s hot stuff,” Sturgeon said, adding he once had a stud, “Kryptonite,” that sold for $350,000 at auction. Just as with pure-bred dogs, there is a registry for alpacas using their DNA.
Sturgeon has other quality studs, too, including, “Golden Warrior,” and “Nitro,” who is older but a “charmer” with the ladies. “Amazing Warrior” is a younger one Sturgeon expects a lot from in the future.
“They have their own personalities,” he said of alpacas, adding they have a pecking order with some more aggressive than others. “But they are a nice animal to deal with – gentle,” he said, adding that’s one reason he got into the business.
Sturgeon has 10 acres on 67th near Strawberry Fields, and another 20 acres in a rural area southeast of there. He moved to that spot from Camano Island a few years ago when his wife was diagnosed with cancer. One alpaca he named “Elise” as a tribute to her. His wife makes scarves made of fleece from the alpaca that are sold at their Alpaca Boutique on 67th. Originally Peruvian mountain animals, that country finally allowed alpaca to be exported in 1984. There are 400,000 in the U.S. today, with many in Oregon and Washington. While llamas are pack animals, alpacas are known for their soft fleece.
As a golfer, Sturgeon became interested in having a ranch with them back when he was in high school. He said legendary golfer Arnold Palmer started wearing golf sweaters made of alpaca fleece instead of wool from sheep. Golfers liked the elasticity of it, and “you could wear it against your skin and not itch,” Sturgeon said.
“It’s an exquisite quality of clothing. It’s a live animal product rather than having to kill it,” he said of another reason they decided to raise alpacas.
Sturgeon said his alpacas are sheared once a year in early summer. The fleece is 5-6 inches thick at the time, which is “what the mills can handle.”
Alpacas live up to 18 years, and when they die their bones can be used for medicinal purposes. Their hides also can be used, and while their meat is eaten in South America, it’s not on many menus in North America.
“It’d be the toughest meat you’d ever had,” he said of an old alpaca.
He did say of alpaca, “Nothing gets left behind.”
The alpaca fleece is made into all types of products: carpet, coats, pillow cases, sweaters, toys, glittens (glove and mitten combo) and of course socks, “which is what they are famous for,” Sturgeon said. Sturgeon, past president of the Pacific Northwest Alpaca Association, said he is involved with educating the public about alpacas. At the Evergreen State Fairgrounds in Monroe, each year he puts on “Alpaca Amore’ Affaire,” an event that draws internet interest around the country. He also does education seminars.
For the 12th year, he also is part of National Alpaca Farm Days from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sept. 29 and noon to 5 p.m. Sept. 30. Visitors will be able to tour the farm at 15530 67th Ave. NE, play with and feed alpacas, learn about raising and breeding them, see live demonstrations and more.
“It’s to raise public awareness about the animals and teach people about the industry with a hands-on experience,” he said.