This week, I had the pleasure of emailing with Steph Block of Sundrop Alpacas in Bement, IL. As you’ll learn below, Steph and co-owner, Lisa Phinney, started their alpaca farm as a way to help their kids have a terrific 4-H experience. I have not yet featured alpaca on the blog, and I am very excited to show off Steph’s animals and operation. I had a hard time selecting photos from her Facebook page (which you will see below) because the photos are all so adorable. These animals really do seem like part of the family for the Blocks and they certainly have personality! I hope you enjoy reading more about them and will head over to their website and Facebook page to learn more.
How did your farm/operation get its start?
We started our business officially in August of 2014, but the journey really began long before. I am from a farm background and always knew we wanted our kids to have livestock and 4-H experience for the responsibility, leadership and friendship opportunities. For several years we had been trying to find a suitable animal that we found appealing, interesting and suitable for small acreage. One of my friends and her husband owned alpacas and I became interested through her Facebook posts. One day she posted that she had a couple for sale. I became almost giddy with excitement, and if you know me, I am pretty calm cool and collected. We asked a few questions, decided that this was going to happen and started to frantically learn all we could and prepare the property. Three months after that post about two adorable little male alpacas being for sale the trailer arrived with seven alpacas. Three boys and four girls. One of the boys was just a couple months old and still with his mom, and one of the mature females was heavily pregnant. We experienced our first alpaca birth within the first month. Our first cria, the name for a baby alpaca, was a beautiful snow white, blue-eyed, baby girl. Later we learned that alpacas are typically born with brown eyes and that our little Luna was a Blue-eyed-white. A quick google search revealed that blue-eyed white alpacas are more often than not born deaf. Luckily for us, little Luna is not deaf, but she does suffer the stigma of being a blue-eyed white. Luckily for her, we love her and plan to keep her here forever, which could be quite a while since alpacas can live 15-20 years.
What kinds of fiber animals do you raise and why?
We raise alpacas for a variety of reasons. Our alpacas came to our farm because they are hardy animals, need (fairly) minimal care and are gentle on pastures. We fell in love with our alpacas once we met their curious and gentle personalities and felt their unbelievable fleece. I just LOVE to watch people when they first feel one of our alpacas. Our little male, Hagrid, feels like a larger than life teddy bear. Some of our alpacas have great personalities. BeGreyble, for instance, is a nearly black alpaca. She gets a lot of attention since black is a rare and sought after color. Unfortunately, her fiber is rather coarse but she is the first alpaca to come right up to a guest and meet them. She is the self-appointed farm ambassador.
What is your favorite part of raising fiber animals?
To be honest, when we first decided to raise alpacas, we didn’t think much about the fleece. We wanted low maintenance animals for the kids to raise for 4-H. The intent was for the kids to learn responsibility and to go to shows where they could experience the rewards of hard work, planning, preparation and competition. We owned our alpacas for nearly 9 months before our first shearing. In the meantime, a fellow alpaca farmer gave us some fleece to use for a 4-H demonstration. We were hooked! From that point on we couldn’t wait to get our own fleece and start making products. Our daughters want a spinning wheel for Christmas and I’m pretty sure that will happen. We spend a tremendous amount of time right now sorting and washing the fleece as well as learning how to make new products and crafts. The kids like to separate out the long fleece for spinning and enjoy trying to hand-card fleece that they then take to the drop spindle. So, back to the question; my favorite part of raising fiber animals is the blissful look on people’s faces when they first get a chance to feel, or work with, high quality alpaca fiber. Now I just have to convince myself to sell some of my favorite fleeces. It can be way too easy to hoard fleece, it does come in 22 natural colors after all!
What is on your wheel/needles/loom?
I do not spin or weave, yet. We will try our hand at spinning before long. So far we’ve tried using a drop spindle with moderate success, wet felting and needle felting. The kids really enjoy wet felting and needle felting. I am looking forward to learning how to make more complex fiber products this winter.
What would you like hand spinners to know about your fiber?
At this time all of our animals are young, which lends itself to very fine fiber with long stable length. We are working hard to deliver product that will exceed the expectations of any spinner. After receiving samples of fleece from a variety of growers, we’ve seen a range of fiber length and softness. Variation is natural, with some parts of the alpaca naturally having coarser fleece. The entire industry is focused on steadily improving the fiber characteristics and of the American alpaca herd. I think we are doing a good job of providing good consistency within each lot we sell using careful sorting. We firmly believe that a buyer should be able to feel a sample of our fleece before selling. The majority of our sales have been in person which allows the buyers to receive exactly what he or she wants.
How can interested buyers get in touch with you?
We have a farm website within the Alpaca Owners Association and also a Facebook page. We are working on having enough materials prepared to attend a farmers market or two. Interested people can give me a call at 607-227-8458 or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org to arrange a visit to the farm. We are always looking for guidance on how to better serve our customers and enjoy letting people experience meeting an alpaca up close and personal.
Our farm website: http://alpacafarms.iaoba.com/farm-alpacas/4690/sundrop-alpacas
Thanks so much Steph!
I love farm visits and meeting new people (and sheep!): if you are a hand spinner, a shepherdess, a small flock owner, a mill operator, or a wool trader, I would love to feature your work on this site. Please get in touch via email or Ravelry by clicking the “About” tab (above)