In addition to being soft, furry and kind of cute, alpacas represent a perfect compromise for Dian Rogers-Trainer and her husband, Steve Trainer.
“I love animals,” Dian said. “He wanted to raise livestock, and I didn’t want to kill them to get their product.”
The product they get from alpacas is fleece that’s much esteemed as a fiber for making sweaters, blankets and other woven items.
The Trainers started their Flatland Ranch alpaca operation five years ago and today have a herd of 26, with three more offspring due this fall.
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In addition to selling fiber, they board alpacas and hope to sell some of their own to other operators.
The Trainers say they were able to plan their barn and pasture space with the alpacas in mind.
It’s a “third career” for Steve, a former Wichita deputy police chief who later worked in human resources for Spirit AeroSystems.
“Now I’m putting up hale bales,” he said.
Dian still works for Spirit’s security department, caring for the alpacas during her time off.
A member of the camel family, alpacas are native to the highlands of South America.
Unlike llamas, they aren’t typically used as pack animals but are instead bred for their fiber and meat.
Dian names her alpacas – Assyria and Chisholm are two favorites – and has no intention of raising them for food.
So far she says the couple haven’t had to deal with the death of any of their animals.
The Trainers’ alpacas range from white to gray to brown to black in color. Adult males are penned off from the females and young, while adolescent males get another pen. The males are known to “neck wrestle” and can injure one another, while the females are fairly docile, the Trainers say.
Alpaca fiber – prized for being soft yet tough – is judged on it fineness. Animals are bred with that trait as a goal, along with other physical characteristics such as straight legs and small snouts.
They’re sheared once a year, a process that Steve says the older animals seem to like.
“It’s like, ‘This feels so good,’ ” he said.
As for the Kansas climate, Dian said alpacas love the cold winters but don’t care much for the summer heat.
When temperatures soar the animals stay in the shade of the barn, where several fans are trained on them.
The couple say the animals seem to thrive in the state, although the Trainers are grateful that a husband-and-wife team of veterinarians, Brian Hodes and Jessica Harrison, recently set up practice in Rose Hill.
The Trainers have been selling most of the fleece they get to a yarn milling operation in Phillipsburg. They trade the rest for finished products.
They don’t currently have their own regular sales outlet, but hope to in the future, Dian said.
The couple run one of about 25 operations in the state. On Saturday, as part of an annual nationwide event called "Alpaca Farm Days," Flatland Ranch will be open to the public from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. for children’s activities, spinning demonstrations and a chance to see alpacas up close.
Rugs, scarves, socks and other products made with alpaca fleece will be available for purchase.