- Last Updated on Wednesday, 12 February 2014 12:14
- Published on Wednesday, 12 February 2014 12:11
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The newest, successful business in Westmoreland County is composed of 14 alpacas and three members of the Chatham family. Westmoreland County Circuit Court Clerk Gwynne Chatham, her husband, Ken, and her son, Ken II, are operating the Gwynnedale Alpaca Farm and delighting friends, neighbors and customers in the process.
Gwynnedale, a home-based business that opened last year, is the first alpaca farm in historic Westmoreland County. It is a family-operated business and a labor of love for the Chathams.
“You just fall in love with these animals,” said Ken Chatham. “We personally interact with them daily. We feel fortunate and blessed to be working with such quality animals.”
Alpacas are native to the high Andes mountain ranges in Peru, Chile and Bolivia.
They are bred for their high quality fiber, which is shorn and made into blankets, gloves, scarves, socks, sweaters, hats and a wide variety of other items.
“Alpaca fiber is five times warmer than wool,” said Ken Chatham. Alpaca fleece is a lustrous and silky natural fiber. It is soft, not scratchy, contains no lanolin, is hypoallergenic and has become very popular with clothing manufacturers worldwide. Alpaca fiber is also flame resistant.
“We researched the business for three or four years,” said Ken Chatham. “It is kind of like raising racehorses; the breeding and the generics are very important.”
The Gwynnedale alpacas are currently being raised on a two-acre site in Montross, next to Stan’s Skateland. The Chathams have acquired top breeding stock from across the country, including a new male that arrived this week from Idaho.
“We decided to purchase our superb breeding stock from those who had spent years developing the best genetic lines,” said Ken. “That led us to acquiring Snowmass Olympic Starzz, Sunset Hills Patriot, and Sunset Hills Argonautum as our herdsires.”
“It’s all about genetics,” Ken Chatham said. “The Snowmass and Sunset Hills farms are some of the most highly recognized research and development teams in the alpaca business.”
“We have also acquired amazing females with unbelievable lineage which have been multiple award winners in their own right. We feel that this combination will put us in a position to offer the highest quality offspring in the future.”
Chatham said alpacas come in 22 colors, are curious, social animals and are alert and pleasant to be around. Because of their mountain heritage, they actually enjoy cold weather and prefer to sleep outdoors as opposed to a covered shelter the Chathams have constructed for them.
They eat grass and hay and the Chathams provide them with a daily treat of barley, grain, apples or carrots. Ken said he hoped area schools and churches would bring children to see the Gwynnedale alpacas. “They are such great animals. We love showing them and talking about them.