RANDOLPH - With Christmas right around the corner, the stress of having to find a gift for the person who has it all has already set in. To avoid finding yourself in a situation reminiscent of O. Henry's "Gift of the Magi," why not think outside the box? Get them something unique that they will absolutely love, such as alpaca fleece socks.
Now, this may sound like a strange suggestion at first, however, fear not, for it is a sound suggestion. Currently, alpaca farming is the fastest growing agribusiness in the country, and there is a good reason why. Alpaca fleece is softer and warmer than wool, is hypoallergenic to most people, and doesn't contain lanolin.
"The possibilities are endless," said Sue Bean, owner of A Slice of Heaven Alpacas. "Alpaca farming is the fastest growing agribusiness right now. A lot of farms are getting into it for many reasons. Perhaps the biggest one, however, is the fact that alpaca fleece is unlike anything else you've ever felt."
Mike and Sue Bean decided to try their hand in Alpaca farming just over a year ago. Mike had lost a significant portion of his 401k, and decided that he wanted to take a more hands-on approach to his retirement.
"In 2009, I watched my 401(k) lose 23 percent in less than a week," said Mike. "We took the rest of our money and put them in Alpacas, because they are 100 percent insured. You have mortality insurance, which is 3.5 percent a year, but it is well worth the price. An Alpaca can live for 20 years or more, and every year after age 3 an Alpaca can give you a baby. Does your 401(k) give you that kind of return?"
According to the Beans, Alpaca farming not only offers a great return on the Alpacas themselves, but also offers the potential to give one a better return on property and supplies one might already own.
Sue Bean, owner of A Slice of Heaven Alpacas, is pictured with a few of her alpaca friends.
P-J photo by Remington Whitcomb
"Alpacas allow us to take property we already owned and write it off as a tax deduction," said Mike.
"The tax benefits are fabulous," said Sue. "We tell everyone who already owns horses that owning two female Alpacas are the best thing they can do to better utilize what they already own. Alpacas are considered livestock, because they create a product which can be sold. So, owning two female Alpacas will allow you to write off your barn, horse trailer, and gas mileage driving back and forth to the vet as tax deductions."
Sue also said that Alpacas, for what they give, are extraordinarily affordable to own. According to the Beans' brochure, maintaining an Alpaca costs $300 per year for simple grass, hay, grain, minerals, fresh water and shots for menigial worms. They instinctually keep a community refuse pile, so cleaning up after them is easier than any other type of livestock. Additionally, Alpaca dung is considered to be a great fertilizer.
"Between feeding the Alpaca, cleaning out the water buckets and cleaning up other miscellaneous things, we only spend really 30 to 40 minutes a day working with the Alpaca," said Sue.
However, as rewarding as it is keeping Alpaca, the Beans agree the most enjoyment they get is when new customers come into the shop and realize for the first time how comfortable Alpaca fleece is.
"We hand make certain items, but to be honest, you won't find a lot in the store right now, because we simply can't keep it on the shelves," said Sue. "As soon as we put it up to be sold, it gets purchased. Being labeled as a stop on the Cattaraugus County Amish Trail certainly helps, but to be completely honest, it is the quality and comfort of the Alpaca fleece that makes it just fly off of our shelves."
At first, one might question how much business the Beans could possibly receive, as their shop is in as rural a location as can be, however due to their dedicated customer base and word of mouth, they find themselves extraordinarily busy.
"It's a blessing being on the Amish Trail," said Sue. "And we make sure to pay it forward. When we get in customers, we ask them, 'have you visited the toy store down the road?' It is almost a (fraternity), being a member of the Amish Trail. We honestly couldn't be in a better location."
So if you find yourself growing weary of crowded malls and shopping stores this Christmas season, a journey down the Cattaraugus County Amish Trail might be just the remedy you need.