It all started with a pair of socks.
Jeslyn Andrews stopped at her neighbor's on-farm store at Shillcox Shamrock Lines farm near DePere. She not only found the warm, soft socks she was seeking, but she saw the animals responsible for providing the fiber that went into them.
'I fell in love with the alpacas on that farm,' Andrews said.
That's when she decided to learn more and eventually chose alpacas as her project for FFA.
She read, from cover to cover, the stack of books about alpacas and their care that the Shillcox family sent home with her. She also helps out at the farm to learn more about these animals.
Andrews recently accompanied the family to the Alpaca and Fiber Festival at the Washington County Fairgrounds, where she helped show the family's animals and care for them at the show.
She was thrilled to meet Alice in Dairyland Teyanna Loether at the event, and she explainedto Alice why alpacas are so special.
Learning all she can
As Andrews sets out to learn about alpacas and develop her SAE for her FFA project, she has participated in the routine vet checks at the farm and even collected stool samples for laboratory testing.
Unlike other livestock manure, the bean-sized manure pellets from the small alpaca are becoming popular for fertilizing vegetable and flower gardens, house plants, orchards, shrubbery and trees.
Alpaca manure consists of small, oval droppings resembling beans and are known as 'green beans' within the alpaca industry. With three stomachs to process food, the alpaca's diet of grass, hay, minerals and fresh water moves efficiently through from product to manure.
Green beans are a natural source of slow-releasing nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium/potash — all in small percentages — so there is no problem burning or over-fertilizing. The beans can be placed directly on outdoor plants. Composted beans are best for vegetable gardens.
Shillcox Shamrock Lines
Shillcox Shamrock Lines is a family-owned farm in northeast Wisconsin located south of De Pere.
The alpaca business, started in 2010, is on a 265-acre family dairy farm built in 1887. The original barn and farmstead still exists; however, the Holstein cows are gone, and today, the landscape is peppered with a multi-colored alpaca herd.
Deb Coady is one of seven from the Shillcox family who grew up on the farm. She and her siblings, including her brother Mark, and Nancy Shillcox, Lorrie Hendridks and Jay Chigi got into raising alpacas in2010.
Coady explained that farming has been in the Shillcox family for well over 125 years. Raising livestock and caring for the land are an integral part of their family roots, and raising high-quality alpacas for fleece, breedings and to sell is their core business.
Today, they have a thriving farm with 51 Huacaya alpacas.
Many school groups throughout the year, FFA, 4-H, knitting clubs and nonprofit organizations tour the farm and are provided an in-depth education and hands-on experience.
The farm hosts an annual open house each fall, inviting the public to tour the farm and meet the alpacas first-hand. Promoting and marketing the herd, the natural, luxurious fibers and products are all part of the alpaca business.