South American alpacas were perfect fit for Wingard family

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 3, 2007

What could Peru possibly have in common with Windsor, Va.?

You may find alpacas at either location.

The alpaca is a member of the camel family and is indigenous to South America.

“They can be like horses in the way of being skittish, although not all of them are that way,” said Chris Wingard, joint owner of Cornerstone Farm Alpacas LLC on Spivey Town Road. “They can spit and kick, although they usually do that at each other. Their spit comes straight from the stomach. Their hooves have two toenails, and they have pads on the bottoms of their feet like a dog.”

She and her husband, Daren, and twins, Katie and Josh, 8, moved from Chesapeake about a year-and-a-half ago, looking for a down-on-the-farm lifestyle.

“We wanted some type of livestock, but we wanted something that would be relatively easy on the soil and grass and something that would be safe for the kids to be around,” Chris Wingard said. “We first saw a 4-Her’s alpaca at a festival in Chesapeake.”

The couple researched alpacas and the fiber industry for about a year. They had already bought land in Windsor and decided to buy three pregnant alpacas in 2004, boarding them until they moved.

“We knew it would be a good fit for the family,” she said. “We love animals, and the kids could be involved.”

Since then, Chris has attended seminars, learning everything from basic care of the animals and pasture maintenance to running a business and the fiber market. Her parents, Guy and Louise Bennett, recently moved to an adjacent lot from upstate New York and also help out on the farm.

The Wingards now have 15 of the animals, with four more due this spring. As of Wednesday, two of the babies were due within a couple of days.

“They are pregnant for 11 months and have one baby,” Wingard said. “It is very rare for them to have twins.” She said the alpacas rarely need assistance with birth. The family has set up a barn camera so that births can be witnessed from the house. A baby monitor is also used to let the Wingards know if there is any disturbance among the animals.

The Cornerstone animals’ average weight is 160 pounds, but the largest is 230 pounds.

Cud chewers, the alpacas have a bottom row of teeth and a hard gum instead of a top row of chompers.

“They eat hay, grass and grain,” said Wingard. The addition of the grain gives the animal more energy to put into making fiber, rather than having just enough to survive.

“The fiber is like cashmere,” she said. “It’s not prickly like wool. It is hypo-allergenic, and there is no lanolin that can gum up textile machines.”

They make subtle, low noises similar to a bovine while grazing.

“They make a clicking noise to attract their babies,” Wingard said. “They also have a high-pitched sound they make when they are alarmed.”

A brand-new barn has been erected with separate paddocks, each leading to a different pasture for the alpacas. Males and young males are separated to keep them from fighting for dominance. The females also have their own paddock and pasture.

Cornerstone Farm Alpacas will have animals from two other alpaca farms in Smithfield — Woodland Trail Farm and Courthouse Pastures — for the Wingards’ first on-farm Shearing Day and Open House, scheduled from 9 a.m. to noon April 14.

“Approximately 30 alpacas will be shorn,” she said. “Expert shearer Jamie Johnson, who travels throughout the Southeast each spring, will be shearing the alpacas.”

Rosemary Gadsby of Boykins will demonstrate spinning skills, and Bob Hecker of Newport News will present the art of weaving.

The event, to be held rain or shine, will take place inside the new barn.

One area will be dedicated to a store featuring items made of alpaca fiber, such as handbags, baby blankets, sweaters, stuffed animals, mittens and yarn. Gift items, such as note cards sporting alpacas, will also be available.

Another area of the barn will contain a classroom where the Wingards can hold seminars and host students on field trips. Health Day, held once a month, is also open to the public.

“We trim nails, give them shots, weigh and de-worm them,” Wingard said.

“We feel we have been blessed. Visitors are always welcome. It gives us the opportunity to share our blessings by showing everyone how wonderful the alpacas are and why we love them.”

The Shearing Day and Open House is free and open to the public. The farm is located at 26298 Spivey Town Road. For information, call 651-6335 or visit