The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, January 16, 2009


A full house in the barnyard on East Meadow Lane


Hunter, the only male llama, surveys his kingdom. (Courtesy photo)

Two llamas and four alpacas have delighted Carlisle residents in recent Old Home Day parades as they have been led along the parade route by proud owner Jane Quinn. Regal and calm, they impress with their huge, soft eyes and incredibly long, silky eyelashes as they walk with careful gait on dainty, padded feet.

The animals live at East Meadow Acres, the home of Jane and Steve Quinn, along with two other llamas, three more alpacas, six miniature horses and two miniature donkeys. Their indoor animal complement includes a Bernese Mountain dog named Bear, eight cats, a rabbit and a chinchilla. There are two gypsy call ducks in a pen near the house. In addition to the number and variety of animals at East Meadow Acres, it is surprising that Quinn does almost all of the toting, feeding and cleaning herself, often with the help of her husband Steve, who is retired.

Barnyard began with Agway ad

Quinn says, “I’ve always loved and owned animals,” but she didn’t start raising barn animals until 1999 when she responded to an ad for a miniature donkey on the Agway bulletin board. The donkey was named Eyeore [sic], and it wasn’t too long before Quinn thought he needed company. She purchased Jackie, another miniature donkey, from a Sudbury breeder who also raised miniature horses and alpacas. The two now have a barn where they can come in from a large outdoor pen and listen to their favorite country western music.

The “Alpaca Girls” line up inside their shelter to observe the Mosquito visitors. From left to right, are Glory, Quen, Kahluha, Stormy, Cocoa Puff, Tia Maria, Lady Godiva and their friend Chaffee, a white llama. (Photo by Jane Hamilton)

One purchase led to another, and soon there was a miniature horse. Then came Glory and Zorro, the first alpacas. Glory gave birth to Hershey, who is, unsurprisingly, a rich chocolate color. In 2000 Quinn saw another Agway ad, this time for a pregnant llama. True to form she couldn’t pass up an opportunity to acquire the animal, especially one with such a black, silky coat, so Princess came home to East Meadow Acres to join Eyeore, Jackie, and the rest of the crew. Princess, in due course, gave birth to Lady Godiva but subsequently died of Eastern Equine Encephalitis.

Care is constant and critical

Routine vaccinations are given all animals and come to about $1,800 annually. Food is provided by 500 bales of hay a year. Horses get wormed every six to eight weeks and llamas every 40 days

Jackie, the miniature donkey, is one of the original denizens of East Meadow Acres. She and her friend Eyeore enjoy listening to country western music. (Photo by Jane Hamilton)

.Sometimes vigilant routine care is not enough. Kuzko, the splendid white llama that walked in the Old Home Day parade last July, died suddenly in November of what is known as meningeal worm, caused by a parasite named parelaphostrongylus tenuis, a disease that is carried in the droppings of white tail deer and spread by an intermediate host, a slug. As slugs travel through the paddocks, they contaminate the soil. Since alpacas and llamas feed from the ground, they are always at risk of contracting the disease. Quinn is saddened by Kuzko’s loss but philosophizes, “that goes along with it.”

And then there is grooming. Horns get trimmed every six to nine weeks. Teeth must also be trimmed, since llama teeth grow throughout life, much like human fingernails. A llama that might from a dentist’s point of view have a remarkable overbite is probably just a llama in need of a tooth trim. Quinn usually schedules vaccinations and trimming at the same time so there are enough strong hands to do the jobs easily.

Yarn harvest a long process

That soft, silky and pricey llama and alpaca yarn is called neither wool nor fur nor hair by llama breeders: it is fiber. Fiber is sheared in two stages, first the “blanket” (back and sides) is taken off and then the “seconds” (legs, neck and tail) are removed. Then the fiber is “skirted,” which means debris and guard hairs are removed. This is a five- to-six-hour process for an individual animal’s blanket. The fine, soft fiber used in knitting is the most valued product; “seconds” are sent off to a fiber co-op to be processed with other owners’ fiber and made into garments that are appropriate for a rougher texture – socks, blankets and hats.

The lengthy preparation time makes fiber production costly in both time and money. It takes about $30 a pound to process fiber to the point where it can be made into yarn, and then it sells for about $5 an ounce. The really soft stuff comes from alpacas; llamas’ fur tends to be coarser. Although some alpaca breeders do process their own fiber, Quinn does not. However, she has small bags of processed fiber from each of her animals. Going through her samples is a tactile picture gallery that ranges from Godiva’s pure white to the silky black of Princess, the rich assortment of browns from the alpacas, and a full bag of soft fawn-colored yarn from Lance, an alpaca.

Herd is increasing

Eight years ago when Quinn began raising llamas and alpacas, she had one male and two females. Despite the deaths of Princess and Kuzko, her herd is increasing, with at least two generations represented in the present herd. One of the llamas, Lady Godiva, is now pregnant, as is Glory, an alpaca. The gestation time is 11 to 13 months, so it will be a while before the chias (as baby llamas and alpacas are called) are out in the pen. All the animals that were born at East Meadow Acres are doing well and get along with other animals.

Vigilance and fencing

Vigilance and fencing are required to control the herd’s growth – vigilance because female llamas do not have a season or come into heat; instead, they ovulate any time a male they fancy is around and ready to cooperate. Conversely, if the female doesn’t find the male interesting, nothing happens despite the best-laid plans of the animal breeder. Hunter, a vigorous male llama, stays in a pen by himself where he can neither hurt his neighbors nor impregnate the females in their own large yards.

“A sucker for animals”

Quinn works full time as a nurse at Emerson Hospital’s CCU where she puts in 12-hour night shifts, two nights a week. She gets home from the hospital about 9 a.m. and starts feeding the animals and cleaning their pens. It makes for a long day, but she admits, “I’m a sucker for animals” and would not have it otherwise. She thinks it takes a big operation to be a successful breeder. She named an operation in Springfield with 200 to 300 llamas where a good male llama might cost $150,000; a particularly choice male has been known to cost $500,000.

When asked if she intended to expand her operation and become a breeder, she says she has no plans to breed yet. And although there are interested purchasers, she is not interested in selling the offspring. Always, she says, she is too fond of each one to part with any of them. ∆

© 2009 The Carlisle Mosquito