Higgasons play hardball to introduce alpacas to Richmond
By JANE W. GRAHAM
RICHMOND, Va. — Why in the world would someone take a herd of alpacas to a baseball field in the middle of a capital city?
For Donna and Guerry Higgason the answer is to tell people about these gentle creatures that have captured their hearts and their business sense.
The couple raises them on their Clearview Alpaca Farm, 260 acres in Essex County, Va., about 30 minutes from Richmond.
On April 16, the Higgasons took some of their newly sheared alpacas to the ballpark, The Diamond, for Alpaca Appreciation Day.
The Richmond Flying Squirrels, the city’s major league farm team, a Double-A affiliate of the San Francisco Giants, welcomed the visitors.
Pens for the alpacas were set up in front of the stadium so baseball fans could get a close look at these small members of the camelid family, pet them and ask Guerry questions.
Donna took some of the alpacas on the field during pre-game activities and explained to the fans about their unique features.
In a telephone interview later, Donna explained that the ballpark is one of the city’s top three sports draws with as many as 6,000 people attending the games at times. This adds up to lots of kids to visit the alpacas and learn about them.
Donna who owns a real estate firm was looking for a tax incentive, she said, when she and Guerry discovered alpacas and fell in love with them.
They purchased the property that includes farmland, pastureland, woods and creeks. It is located minutes from the Rappahannock River.
They went to work creating the farm that the Clearview home page says is home to “the happiest alpacas around.”
For the Higgasons, alpacas are a business, not a hobby.
When they bought the farm in 2006, their intent was to raise the animals for quality, not quantity.
When they were ready, they purchased two males to be their herd sires and two bred females, both of which produced “little girls,” Donna said.
The herd has grown to 93 animals in the past six years.
“I love them all,” Donna declared.
The couple has started an alpaca breeding facility on the farm. They have a nursery for the babies, called cria. There are currently five cria in the nursery.
From the nursery, the “juvies” go back with their moms. There are eight juvies on the farm.
The farm also features a maternity ward where the mothers-to-be are placed 120 days prior to their due date.
They produce one offspring a year and have an 11-month gestation period.
She said the alpacas are fairly low maintenance. They are fed high quality hay and get a cup of grain twice a day.
They also graze on pasture. They are de-wormed once a month. Each is implanted with a microchip for identification purposes.
The couple hires a full-time farm manager who feeds and halter trains the animals.
The alpacas are sheared once a year by a professional shearer who flies to Virginia from Australia.
The fleece is warmer than wool and softer than cashmere, Donna said, adding it is also hypoallergenic.
The fleeces are highly absorbent, making it ideal in efforts to contain and clean up oil spills.
The Higgasons donated their entire fleece production one year to the clean-up effort in the Gulf of Mexico after the disastrous BP oil spill.
Donna stressed the importance of buying and producing quality animals. They show the animals as a marketing tool. Winners sell better.
Their herd sires also stand at stud. At the time of the interview, there were two females from New York and two from Bedford, Va., at the farm to be bred.
One of their alpacas, Stuart, likes to travel, she said.
This enables him to do a special job as he is taken to nursing homes to visit the residents and brighten their days.
And baseball fans enjoy them too.