WASHINGTON – G. Robin Gilmore saw his first alpaca and thought, “Oh my God, I gotta have about 100 million of these.”
“They are awesome, awesome animals,” the Pennsylvania alpaca breeder added.
These awesome animals will be on display this weekend at the Three Ring Farm in Butler for the first annual Maryland Alpaca Show and Sale. Almost 500 alpacas from about two dozen states will star at the free event, making the show one of the largest in the country.
“We don’t charge people to learn about alpacas,” said Gilmore, the show promoter and organizer. He expects at least 1,000 visitors.
Alpacas resemble small llamas, spit like camels, sport cat-like personalities and have been inspiring such devotion since their stateside arrival about 20 years ago, according to Chuck Gulotta, treasurer of the Maryland Alpaca Breeders Association.
The herd animals, native to South America, number about 70,000 in the U.S. thanks to alpaca breeders like Gilmore, who are working to grow the stateside population while annually harvesting their soft wool. The prized wool is often used to make clothing like scarves, blankets and slippers.
In native countries like Peru, alpacas are bred for their wool, the finest of which is similar to cashmere, according to Gulotta. Their coats come in more than 20 colors, ranging from black to rose-gray to brown to white.
“I think people are curious,” said Chris McCollum, agricultural liaison at the Baltimore County Department of Economic Development, of the expected crowds at the event.
“It’s good for the county,” McCollum added, saying that the county supports this kind of “niche farming,” that can provide income for farmers and the local community and also help preserve rural farmland.
The show will feature an alpaca competition, where animals will be judged on physical form and fleece characteristics and an alpaca obstacle course, where children can lead their alpacas through jumps, ramps and hula hoops. Visitors can also purchase alpacas, but they come with a hefty price tag: Gulotta estimates a premium male stud can cost $20,000 and up. Pet alpacas can cost anywhere from $300 to $1,000.
In the United States, farms range in size from small to full-time businesses that allow breeders, including Gilmore, to quit their day jobs.
“There are enormous tax benefits,” Gilmore said.
There are about 50 alpaca farms in Maryland, according to Gulotta, who started his own alpaca breeding in 1999 with just one animal, Dusty. Dusty helped with farm maintenance by eating grass, an alpaca food source, on the small Manchester farm.
More than five years later, Gulotta owns 14 alpacas, including Dusty and her daughter Morning Glory.
“We do not have kids,” Gulotta said, “We have alpacas.”