Sweater-clad baby alpacas find some comfort in cold

  • Posted: Wednesday, January 8, 2014 12:01 a.m.
STAFF PHOTO BY DEDE BILES
John Forney, left, and Sherry Forney pose with some of the alpacas at Aiken Alpacas of Chiweenie Farms. The baby alpacas are wearing children’s sweaters to help keep them warm.
STAFF PHOTO BY DEDE BILES John Forney, left, and Sherry Forney pose with some of the alpacas at Aiken Alpacas of Chiweenie Farms. The baby alpacas are wearing children’s sweaters to help keep them warm.

WILLISTON — When they heard the weather forecasts for bitter cold this week, the owners of Aiken Alpacas of Chiweenie Farms were ready.

They put children's sweaters on their eight baby alpacas on Monday to help keep them warm.

“Last fall, we got to thinking ahead about the wintertime and how the babies wouldn't have as much fleece as the adults to protect them,” said Sherry Forney, who operates the farm with her husband, John; niece, Pam Pray; and Pam's husband, Herb.

Because of their concern, Sherry and Pam went shopping with Sherry's sister-in-law, Gloria Kendall, at Aiken's Goodwill store in October.

“We got a whole bunch of sweaters,” Sherry said.

Their selections included a variety of styles and colors. Some of the pullovers were red or blue. Others had polka dots and stripes.

To get the sweaters ready for the baby alpacas to wear, “we cut the sleeves to fit their legs,” Sherry said.

Then, in the hours right before the predicted arctic blast roared through South Carolina, the owners of Aiken Alpacas dressed their young stock in their new togs.

“They didn't give us a hard time at all,” Sherry said. “It (the process) was like put one foot in, pull the sweater over the head, put another foot in and then pull the sweater over the back and the belly.”

The Aiken Alpacas owners also opened up a large stall in a barn and allowed the babies and their mothers to spend the night inside after covering up the openings in the walls with boards and hay.

“We wanted them to be able to get in there and 'kush' (sit on the ground with all four of their legs tucked underneath) and huddle together,” Sherry said.

Alpacas are originally from South America, where they live in the wild on the high plains of the Andes mountains. Their babies are known as crias.

“Alpacas are used to very cold conditions, but they don't tolerate the wind very well because it blows up their fleece,” Sherry said.

The temperatures in Aiken and surrounding areas were in the low teens early on Tuesday morning, and they didn't rise above freezing later in the day. However, the sweater-clad baby alpacas looked comfortable as they roamed around outside with their mothers during the afternoon.

One of the babies, wearing a camouflage sweater with pink trim, and another, which had on a green pullover, spent time nursing. Others checked out the feed that John offered to their mothers.

“They are very smart,” Sherry said. “They all have names, and they all have different personalities. They're a lot of fun.”

Aiken Alpacas is located on 47 acres in Aiken County near the Aiken County/Barnwell County line. There are 40 animals in the farm's alpaca herd. The eight babies range in age from 3 months to 6 months old.

“We sell some of our alpacas and help other farms get started in the business,” Sherry said. “We also have some very high-quality males that other farms can breed their females to. We shear our alpacas once a year to get fleece, which is hypo-allergenic and warmer than wool. It is made into yarn that can be used in scarves, shawls, hats and gloves. We send the leg fleece, which is usually not very valuable, to a mill in Texas that makes beautiful saddle pads for horses out of it.”

The Aiken Alpacas owners started developing their farm in 2010 and stocked it with alpacas for the first time in December 2012.

Herb and Pam are full-time residents of South Carolina. John, who is a financial planner, and Sherry live in Pennsylvania, but they spend about 40 percent of their time at Aiken Alpacas.

“Ultimately, this is what we want to do during our retirement,” Sherry said. “John and I are active, busy people, and, for us, retirement isn't about sitting on a porch. We want to have a business to take us to the next phase of our lives.”

Dede Biles is a general assignment reporter for the Aiken Standard and has been with the newspaper since January 2013.

A native of Concord, N.C., she graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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