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Sunday, February 17 , 2019, 6:22 am | Fair 49º


Take a Tour of an Alpaca Farm for the Shear Fun of It

Carol-Anne Lonson of Canzelle Alpacas will open her ranch to the public for National Alpaca Farm Days.

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Carol-Anne Lonson, with one of her 140 alpacas, has one of the largest herds in the nation on her 20-acre Carpinteria farm. (Mollie Helmuth / Noozhawk photo)

The view unfolds in layers — blue sky into bluer islands, the Santa Barbara Channel, a glimpse of Carpinteria behind a wall of oak trees and, finally, alpacas. It is a view Carol-Anne Lonson wakes up to every morning on her 20-acre farm, Canzelle Alpacas.

Nine years ago, Lonson taught part-time and lived with her family in Hope Ranch on three acres, much of which she says was a waste of taxes.

“One of the acres was so steep, and our CPA said, ‘Well, if you get a home-based business, you could take some of this property tax off,’” said Lonson, who grew up on a wine farm in South Africa and says it never left her system.

After reading an article in Town & Country Magazine on alpacas, Lonson partnered with her mother and bought two pregnant females. Nine years later and 17 acres larger, Canzelle Alpacas has one of the largest herds in the nation at 140 head.

The National Alpaca Farm Days event is coming up Sept. 27-28, and Lonson will be welcoming visitors to her farm from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., free of admission.

“It gives the public an opportunity to come and see alpacas and learn about them and just have a fun day. It’s free, a day in the country kind of thing,” Lonson said.

The day will include a petting area, a chance for children to walk and feed the alpacas, plenty of adorable cria (babies), refreshments and fleece products for sale.

Lonson is preparing knitting kits for the event. Each will include a pattern and the right amount of alpaca yarn for the garment. To personalize the project, the kits will include a picture of the exact animal that provided the fleece.

Alpaca fiber is a huge industry in Peru, where most of the Canzelle clips end up for garment production. Lonson hires a shearer from Australia once a year for a marathon two-day session, relieving the animals of their thick fleece in time for summer.

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In honor of National Alpaca Farm Days, the Canzelle Alpacas ranch in Carpinteria will offer, among other things, a petting area and a chance for children to talk and feed the animals. (Mollie Helmuth / Noozhawk photo)
“Like you breed for fast racehorses, you breed alpacas for good fleece,” Lonson said. “You want quality and quantity — a lot of sweaters from one alpaca.”

The raw fleece is bagged, color-sorted and sent to the Alpaca Fiber Cooperative of North America in Tennessee. AFCNA sends the clips to Peru, where they are processed and sent back. Lonson buys the alpaca products wholesale and retails them.   

“If you are a bit more ambitious, and I do some of this, you sell raw fiber to hand spinners and weavers and knitters,” Lonson said.

Although alpaca fiber is a unique business, it’s not where the money is. Lonson’s main focus is on successful breeding — more than 80 of her alpacas are expecting.

This isn’t, however, an alpaca mating free-for-all. Every breeding is carefully calculated for the best results. As Lonson says, “With the breeding, if you have a Ferrari, why would you use a Volkswagen?” 

The herdsires, or the breeding males, are extremely valuable. Lonson’s four “Ferrari males” are owned in partnership with other alpaca farms around the country. Perhaps the most impressive is Casanova, who spends six months of the year in Chicago.

“His offspring are generally always gray, which is the most difficult color to breed for because it’s the least dominant,” Lonson said.

Casanova won Herdsire of the Year in 2003, after which one of his offspring won Herdsire of the Year, the only time in history that has happened. The award is given to the herdsire as a reflection of how his offspring performed at shows.

Cria are often sold as pets, much like a person would purchase a family dog. Although good herdsires or females can go for thousands of dollars, pet males often go for as low as $200.

“They make great pets, even though they are exotic,” Lonson said. “Dotted all over California backyards are two alpacas.” Because they are herd animals, they must be sold in sets.

Along with breeding, Lonson’s animals participate in the national alpaca show circuit, the Santa Barbara Fair and Expo, the Village Fourth Parade in Montecito and various local preschools and senior living facilities.

“Kids don’t want to leave,” Lonson said. “I try to make it educational, I have a hand spinner, and I let them try it. They all have a turn walking the alpacas.”

In the future, Lonson says she hopes to get a monthly program started to host interested groups at the farm.

Noozhawk intern Mollie Helmuth can be reached at [email protected]

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