Sugarloaf Alpaca Co. considers spinning mill
By MICHEL ELBEN
ADAMSTOWN, Md. — Since 2002, Nancy Brandt has envisioned an alpaca business that works from pasture to product: From breeding alpacas for fiber to transforming that fiber into alpaca yarn and finished products.
Her dream may soon be realized. Nancy and Kevin Brandt are laying the groundwork to establish a spinning mill at their Sugarloaf Alpaca Company to accompany the retail and wholesale outlet they have for alpaca yarns. The Brandts will be supporting 20 alpaca farmers in Frederick County and throughout the state. While the Brandts intend to primarily process their own fiber, the company will offer processing and spinning to other alpaca farms in the mid-Atlantic area.
There are more than 10,000 alpacas within 500 miles of the Brandts’ farm. According to Helen Roth, Sugarloaf Alpaca Company’s director for marketing and sales, the Brandts’ spinning mill will be the solution to the large amount of alpaca fiber that currently goes to waste or is stored in barns and garages. It is not uncommon to be quoted a 9 to 18 month turn-around time to receive fiber processed into yarn back from a mill, Roth said.
“Alpaca fiber is difficult to get processed,” Roth said. “Some producers don’t have enough fiber, some do and don’t have a market (to sustain their own yarn shop).” The Brandts plan to maintain a much shorter turn-around time.
The Brandts are currently in the process of sending out survey requests and the more people that complete the surveys, the better service the Brandts will be able to offer.
The surveys have been sent out to yarn shops and guilds. The Brandts ask if they currently stock alpaca yarn, the price point, etc. and they also distributed an alpaca breeder/owner survey.
The Brandts are analyzing what farmers currently do with their fiber: Is it processed, stored or disposed of? If they do send it to a mill, would they prefer shorter processing times, a local venue, etc.?
Alpaca fiber is one of the most desirable fibers in the world, said Roth. “It is as warm as wool but often softer than cashmere,” she said. “It doesn’t contain the lanolin that may cause an allergic reaction and the fibers are lighter weight.”
By establishing their own spinning mill, the Brandts said, they plan on quickly responding to the knitting, weaving and hand-spinning guilds and the interests of individuals.
Sugarloaf Alpaca Company also plans on establishing a custom dying process so that orders for a certain number of skeins of yarn will all be from the same dye lot. The farm, including the mill, will be open for public tours.
They anticipate that the mill will be up and running in 2013.
The Brandts said their fascination with alpacas started at the Great Frederick Fair in 2002. After wandering around various booths, barns and vendors, Kevin suggested one last barn – the alpaca barn. The couple said they fell love with their big brown eyes and decided to investigate further.
The following summer, having done a great deal of research on the Internet about alpacas, the Brandts traveled to Oregon for a three-day alpaca seminar.
After sitting through three days of lectures and hands on experiences, the couple headed to the coast for a vacation.
During the drive, they spent hours discussing alpacas and ultimately decided to drive back and purchase 12 alpacas. And Sugarloaf Alpaca Company was born.
When the Brandts returned home, they realized the quarter-acre lot they owned wouldn’t accommodate their newly acquired alpacas.
So, they looked for a farm to call their own.
Sugarloaf Alpaca Company has grown from less than an acre with 12 alpacas to a 40-acre farm with 90 alpacas.
Over the nearly 10 years of operation the company has sold more than 50 alpacas to other farms.
The Brandts have helped to establish new farms as well as supplement the breeding stock of existing alpaca breeders.
This year, The Brandts applied for the highly competitive USDA value-added producer grant program to prepare a feasibility study, business plan and marketing strategy for their alpaca business vision. On April 27, USDA announced that the Brandts won the grant.
In addition, the Brandts won a Maryland Agricultural & Resource-Based Industry Development Corporation grant. MARBIDCO’s grant will provide a portion of the funds to match the USDA grant.
In total, the Brandts’ won about $82,000 to evaluate the opportunity and develop a roadmap for the development of an alpaca fiber spinning mill and agri-tourism destination.
This plan won’t pay for developing the spinning mill but it will measure Sugarloaf Alpaca Company’s intuition about the demand for alpaca fiber yarns and products.