By Jaine Treadwell
||Jerry Sanders fell in love with alpacas the first time he saw them. They are lovable, huggable animals and tender, loving care is the most they need.
If Jerry Sanders isn’t careful, he’s going to talk himself right out of a job.
Sanders is a massage therapist in Ozark and he has devoted many years to helping people relax and feel better. However, he has found a form of therapy that provides all of the therapy he needs and he can’t stop talking about it.
That’s the way it is when you’re in love.
A big smile spreads across Sanders face when he talks about his "girls." And, he talks in a voice so low the soft humming from the girls can be heard and provides background "music" for the story he tells.
His story has roots in the land near Ozark that his dad has farmed for decades, peanuts primarily.
In 1999, Sanders and his wife, Wanda, traded the hustle and bustle of city life for the peaceful quiet of rural South Alabama. They moved "just up the road" from where his dad and mom, Pat and Emma Nell Sanders, live and farm.
|The Alabama summer heat has been rough on Jerry Sanders’ alpacas so to help them cool down, he hoses them a couple of times a day.
"After living in the city for 29 years, I was ready to get back to the country and we loved it," Sanders said.
And, once back in the country, Sanders got bitten by the bug that keeps folks on the farm. So, he and his wife decided to do a little "farming."
They got into the goat business.
"I soon found out that raising goats is a lot of work because you have to deal with parasite problems and a lot of other health issues," he said. "After about three years, I was ready to get out of the goat business."
Getting out of the goat business didn’t rid Sanders of the desire to dabble in farming.
"I’d heard a little about alpacas, which are cousins to the llama and are native to the Andean Mountain range of South America, and I read about them, too," Sanders said. "Alpacas produce a fine fiber that is as soft as cashmere and as warm as wool. The fiber is used to make a variety of different types of higher end clothing."
||Alpaca fiber is as soft as cashmere and as warm and durable as wool. It comes in 22 natural colors but can be dyed any shade. Alpaca fiber has natural wicking properties and wicks moisture away from the body. It is also water repellant and odor reducing. It contains no lanolin so it is naturally hypoallergenic.
Alpacas were introduced into the United States in 1984 so the number of new alpaca farms is steadily increasing and the demand for breed stock is growing.
"Alpacas have a relatively long and trouble free reproductive life span," Sanders said. "They are friendly and inexpensive to raise and require very little acreage. They eat grass and hay along with a special blend feed supplement. Alpaca farming seemed to be just right for what Wanda and I wanted to do."
But the couple had never even laid eyes on an alpaca. They wanted to look before they leaped so they took a trip to an alpaca farm in North Alabama.
"As soon as I saw them, I was in love," Sanders said, laughing. "They are without a doubt some of the most enchanting creatures God ever put on this earth. There is something mystical about them. Alpacas are fairy tale animals. I was in love with them."
Sanders was ready to put a ‘paca in his pocket, so to speak, until he heard how deep his pocket had to be.
"I was surprised at what they cost," he said. "I didn’t think that I could pay what amounted to the price of a car for one of them."
Although raising alpacas seemed almost cost prohibitive, Sanders couldn’t get them out of his mind.
What else could he do? So, he reached deep into his pocket and founded Alabama Peanuts and Pacas Farm.
He’s been raising alpacas now for almost three years and he’s even more in love than he was when he first saw them.
"I don’t know when I’ve enjoyed anything any more," he said. "Alpacas are called the huggable investment and they really are. They are soft and fuzzy, like big teddy bears, and you want to hug them. They have personalities. Children love them because they are so friendly. And, for me, they are therapy. When I come down here, I leave my worries behind. Being around them is so relaxing. The sound they make is a soft humming and I find myself humming right along with them. They are real pleasure to be around."
The only problem with raising alpacas in South Alabama is the heat and this summer has been exceptionally hot.
"The heat has been rough on them so I’ve got fans running in the barn all the time," he said. "I cool them down with the water hose and they love that. I’ve got wading pools they like to stand in and some of them will actually lie down in the pools."
Sanders currently has 17 alpacas, 10 females and seven males. The herd will soon increase by nine.
"Alpacas reproduce slowly," he said. "They usually have only one cria (baby) a year. Most new breeders retain the offspring to build the herd to a certain level before they sell. That’s what we’ve done."
The primary profit in alpaca farming comes from selling breeder stock. The United States and Canadian registries are closed to further importation so growth from alpacas is from within.
"That was important to know when we were considering getting into alpaca farming," Sanders said. "But there is also money to be made from the fiber."
Alpacas are usually shorn once a year and produce up to 10 pounds of luxurious fiber.
"Alpaca fiber was once reserved for only the very rich, but today it’s purchased by hand-spinners and fiber artists. It’s also sent to mills to be produced into yarn and finished goods. We send our fiber to a mill in the Northeast."
Sanders said hikers, athletes and outdoorsmen like alpaca socks and clothing because of its natural wicking properties.
"It wicks moisture away from the body," he said. "I wear alpaca socks in the summer because they do wick the moisture away from your feet. They also keep your feet warm and dry in the winter. Travelers especially like alpaca clothing because it’s wrinkle resistant."
To hear Jerry Sanders talk, there’s not anything "bad" he can say about the lovable, huggable animals with the funny name and the mystical faces.
"The alpacas business has been good for us and I can recommend it," he said. "There are a couple of other alpaca farms around Ozark and one in Dothan, so interest is growing. I enjoy talking to people about alpacas and the business."
Sanders can hardly wait to get home every day so that he can walk down to the barn and hear the soothing, humming of his alpacas and see the friendly faces of his fairy tale animals. That’s all the therapy this massage therapist needs.
Sanders loves to talk about alpacas and can be reached at 334-445-2762 or visit his website at www.alabamapeanutsandpacas.com
Jaine Treadwell is a freelance writer from Brundidge.