Meet the animals

Lou Ann Sekely is approached by her pack of male alpacas, led by Nicki, as they graze in a gated and protected pasture at Alpacas of the Crystal Coast in Ocean. Visitors are welcome to meet and learn more about the animals at the farm during National Alpaca Farm Days 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sept. 28 and 1 to 6 p.m. Sept. 29. (Dylan Ray photo)

Alpacas of the Crystal Coast in Ocean will open the gates to visitors for National Alpaca Farm Days Sept. 28-29.

They will be open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sept. 28 and 1 to 6 p.m. Sept. 29. You can feed an alpaca, learn to process fiber and make yarn.

At the Farm Day, Lou Ann Sekely will sell socks, hats and scarves and soft, soft teddy bears made from alpaca fiber.

She sells alpaca-fiber roses, felt-covered “soap in a coat” and dryer balls, which absorb moisture so laundry dries more quickly. She also sells her alpaca-fiber goods at the Beaufort Farmers Market at courthouse square 8:30 a.m. to noon Saturdays.

The alpaca farm is at 180 Morada Bay Drive. Off Highway 24, almost three miles west of Croatan High School, turn south on J Bell Lane at the Hess Gas Station. Stay on the pavement until the brick gate for the Morada subdivision, then turn right, park along the dirt road (by a house under construction) and walk to the farm fences.

By request, Lou Ann will teach workshops to make felt scarves and animals from alpaca fiber. She sells batts of carded fiber to felters and skeins of yarn to knitters.

To schedule an alpaca-fiber workshop, call Lou Ann at 393-8312, or email alpacascc@gmail.com. The farm’s website is www.alpacasofthecrystalcoast.com.

Alpaca fiber is softer, warmer and stronger than wool from sheep. Alpaca is hypoallergenic; it is lanolin free and naturally odor resistant. Semi-hollow, as a natural insulator, alpaca fiber traps warmth while staying lightweight. It comes in 16 basic colors — from white, light tan and grays to dark brown and black.

Alpacas come from South America, where they live on the high plateau of the Andes Mountains in Peru, Bolivia and Chile. Alpacas are closely related to other “New World” camelid species: llamas, vicunas and guanacos.

They also resemble their “Old World” cousins — one-humped Dromedary and two-humped Bactrian camels. The United States Alpaca industry closed imports in 1998, so U.S. farmers can develop domestic herds.

Accustomed to altitudes of between 12,000 to 15,00 feet, the alpacas in Carteret County have adjusted to warm coastal summer weather. Lou Ann bought a huge Port-A-Cool fan to keep the ladies cool. The female alpacas clustered in front of the fan, which blew tufts of hair on the tops of their heads.

There are two different breeds of Alpaca. Huacayas look like big teddy bears with long soft fur; a Suri has shiny, curly dreadlocks.

In September, the alpacas’ backs, tummies and legs have only an inch or two of hair. In April every year, a shearer comes from New Zealand to shear Crystal Coast Alpacas. He starts his circuit shearing sheep in Colorado, stops in Carteret County, and then flies to Europe. Lou Ann sends her fleece to New England for processing.

Alpacas have warm, friendly, gentle personalities as pets. Alpacas hum when they are content. But they can spit if they are annoyed. When I visited, Lou Ann’s daughter and granddaughter, Monica and Madeline Poling, were feeding carrots to the alpacas, who took them very gently. They have four very long teeth on the bottom and a firm cut on the top of their mouths.

Blue eyed, blond and spoiled, Buddy is the only male who really welcomes cuddling. As ambassador, he has visited Bible school, New Bern and Jacksonville Farmers Markets and a Christmas party for military police at Camp Lejeune. Buddy is “potty trained” for visiting classrooms.

Nine years ago, Lou Ann and her husband Dave bought the first six alpacas for $32,000, and the herd has grown to nine males and eight females. Lou Ann bought two more, but all the rest have been born on the farm. Only one female has died. Alpacas live about 20 years with good veterinary care.

Lou Ann keeps her females and males separated in different pastures because alpaca females can self-ovulate, which means they can get pregnant any time they breed.

Lou Ann has nine pastures and rotates the alpacas for the grass to grow. The pastures have irrigation, some with automatic sprinklers. She just spent $200 to buy 25 pounds of grass seed. She supplements grass and hay with feed, and feeds the alpacas two meals a day and keeps their water bowls always filled. She regularly clips their feet and checks for worms.

“We barely break even with the cost of feed, hay, fence, tractor,” Lou Ann said. “There’s a big expense raising animals.”

At the Farmers Market, she would like to be classified as a farmer, instead of a crafter. She sells value-added fiber crafts to support her alpaca herds. “Some people think raising animals is no more difficult than raising vegetables.”

Lou Ann and Dave cleared most of their six-acre farm and built a barn.

“We’re still building the barn,” she laughed.

Dave was painting boards red to finish the siding on the barn’s southern wall. The southern pastures were originally Bogue Sound watermelon fields.

“We took down a hundred trees ourselves, with tractor and muscles, so we could keep the trees we wanted for shade.”

Lou Ann Sekely worked in child nutrition for 38 years. She managed the lunchroom at Havelock Elementary School for about 20 years.

Recently, she has worked at Croatan High School, Bogue and White Oak elementary schools. In May, Lou Ann retired full time to be a farmer.

“Now,” she said, “I feed alpacas, two horses, two German shepherds and chickens.”

Dave Sekely works on jet engines at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point. They have been married for 40 years and have two children and six grandchildren.

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