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Woodford Times - Peoria, IL
  • East Peoria couple starts alpaca farm

  • Kevin Wurster wants to carry on the tradition of farming on his family’s land in East Peoria.
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  • Kevin Wurster wants to carry on the tradition of farming on his family’s land in East Peoria. 
    With tears rolling down his cheeks, Kevin said his father, David, who was a hobby farmer, was killed in a tragic farming accident on the family’s property in the late 70s. One way Kevin is honoring his father’s memory is by raising alpacas.
    He and his wife of two years, Amy, started their farm — which they 
    dubbed Highpoint Alpacas — in December 2012 when they acquired their first two male alpacas. The Wursters purchased their alpacas from Shari Pritchard, who operates Autumn Sky Alpacas in Chillicothe.
    The Wursters learned a bit about alpacas on the Internet and through what Kevin said is a very helpful network of other alpaca owners and enthusiasts.
    “There’s kind of a sea to shining sea of support. There are veterinarians who have studied alpacas for years. If you’ve got a question, you can email them,” Kevin said.
    In addition to the males — Duke and Tate — the Wursters have three females in a separate pen, which is a must, Kevin said, otherwise the males would pester the females constantly. The Wursters purchased two females — Cream and Sugar and Sweet Irish Rose — near Saint Louis. They are renting a third female alpaca that is carrying an offspring from one of their males. The gestation period is 11 months and the baby alpaca is due in August.
    In addition to carrying on his family’s farming tradition, there are other reasons for having the alpacas. 
    “She does a lot of crocheting and for the benefit of agricultural use of the property for tax purposes and also as a child, we had cattle and such here,” Kevin, 48, said.
    On Thursday, the alpacas were sheared. The Wursters will either sell the fur as is or get it processed and sell it or make items from it.
    “You can make scarves, hats, socks,” Amy said. “You can have it wove into cloth and make garments out of it. It is very soft. You don’t have the problem with people being allergic and itching with wool. You’re not going to with alpaca.”
    “The lanolin insulator value is probably five times better than wool,” Kevin said. “A lot of people don’t believe it, but if you put on a pair of alpaca socks, it’s totally different.”
    Page 2 of 3 - Because their 18 acres of farmland is located within the city limits of East Peoria, Kevin said they had to obtain a special permit from the city to operate their alpaca farm.
    The cost of an alpaca varies, Kevin said.
    “Several years ago you could find an alpaca that was a high breeding premium quality going for $30,000. Now, it’s more average, those go for about $15,000,” Kevin said.
    Caring for an alpaca is “pretty low maintenance,” Kevin said. They get shots once a month to protect them from parasites that white-tailed deer carry. Once a year, they have to be sheared of their thick coats and their toenails and teeth have to be trimmed. Yes, teeth.
    “They only have lower teeth, other than what the males have that are referred to as fighting teeth and so they kind of get great big buck teeth and so once a year when they’re in between usually their second and fifth year, you’ve got to trim them once a year. After that, they’re all right,” Kevin said.
    Alpacas, which are in the same family as camels and llamas, eat pellets of grain, hay in the winter and grass in the summer. Kevin said, like camels, alpacas do spit, but for different reasons.
    “Camels kind of like spit at will whenever they get honked off at all. Alpacas, they typically spit at each other when one decides to get in the other’s feed bucket. I’ve been collateral damage,” Kevin said of getting caught in the spit crossfire.
    Kevin said he chose alpacas over other animals for specific reasons.
    “I wanted to kind of go into the breeding and potential money — and sheep, they’re a dime a dozen,” he said. “Even though the United States Department of Agriculture considers (alpacas) a livestock animal now not an exotic, there’s not a lot of them around.”
    The Wursters are part of the Alpaca Owners and Breeders Association and will participate in the group’s national farm day, which is the last weekend in September.
    “What we do is we open up the farm, put signs out,” Kevin said. “We let people come out, see the alpacas, ask questions.”
    In the future, Kevin said he hopes to participate more in breeding and shows. The Wursters are off to a good start as they’ve already won ribbons with two of their alpacas they’ve shown. They may also open a small farm store, as well.
    Page 3 of 3 - “The knitting guild, I’ve already talked to them and they’re interested in buying raw fleece, and/or some of the ladies would just like to buy yarn to knit with,” Kevin said, adding there are 22 different color variations of alpaca fur.
    Currently, the item Kevin said they are making the most money from are their alpaca “beans” or manure, which they sell for $5 for 20 gallons.
    “I’ve got people buying them for their gardens. If you know very much about horses and cattle, (their manure) — it’s high nitrogen and it will burn plants if you put it straight in the garden,” Kevin said. “The alpacas process the grass and the feed they eat so much that it’s already cured, so it’s a natural fertilizer.”
    When the Wursters are not busy with their alpacas, they both work fulltime and are involved with the Hilton Masonic Lodge in East Peoria. Kevin works at Tyco in East Peoria as a project manager and Amy works at Graham Hospital in Canton as a respiratory therapist and does sleep studies. The Wursters also like to travel a bit, but won’t much now since they have their alpacas.
    “This is kind of it now. Now we’re just working on trying to self-sustain. This year, we’re going to be working on cutting and baling hay so I don’t have to go out and buy it,” Kevin said. “It keeps me healthy. You can ask her. I don’t spend a lot of time inside watching TV.” 

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