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BEAR CREEK – Sometimes mistaken for llamas, alpacas are much smaller and lighter than their camelid cousins. While llamas stand up to 46 inches at the shoulder and can weigh up to 400 pounds, alpacas tip the scale at around 150 pounds and are around 3 feet at the shoulder.

They may appear dainty and fragile at first glance, but alpacas are surprisingly hardy herd animals, with a thick luxurious coat that enables them to thrive in the higher elevations of the Andes Mountains of South America.

Alpacas are highly prized for their valuable fiber, which is harvested each spring by shearing.

Dennis Kruzicki also discovered that alpacas have significant therapeutic value.

He and his wife, Josie, own Kruzicki’s Kemo Kritters, a 20-acre alpaca farm just east of the village of Bear Creek in western Outagamie County.

“I have leukemia and lymphoma,” Kruzicki said, explaining how they came up with the name for their farm. 

“About 4 years ago I stopped at an alpaca and llama farm while returning from a treatment. I was just standing there watching the animals, seeing how they interacted with each other, and when I got in my truck to go home, I realized I had been there for two hours.” he recalled.

When he suggested to his wife that they get alpacas, she replied, “‘Are you crazy, you might need a bone marrow transplant.”’

Fortunately, he didn’t need the transplant, but he did get the alpacas. 

“My sister knew a friend who had six alpacas for sale, and she bought them for us,” Kruzicki related. “Watching them and working with them helped me relax so I was better able to cope with the mental stress of my cancer, which is now in remission.”

That original herd of six has grown to 35 animals, with five females currently pregnant.

"We rescued some animals and bought out some other farmers who needed to get out of the business,” he said.

Sharing in the shearing

Because of the hot, humid Wisconsin summers, the alpacas need to be sheared each spring to keep them comfortable. And Kruzicki has turned that event into an opportunity for the public to become better acquainted with his favorite animals.

This year’s shearing day, held on a recent Saturday, drew 700 people to the farm. 

“There’s no charge and parking is free,” he stressed. “We just want people to come and see what these animals are all about.”

The alpacas were placed on a table where two experienced shearers from the Green Bay area efficiently removed their luxurious fiber.

“The animals also got their hooves trimmed and teeth clipped,” Kruzicki added.

Much of the work on shearing day is done by 20 volunteers.

“We’re so fortunate to have these people come out and help us,” he said. “We have our handlers, the people who are comforting the animals, and we have three ladies who bag up the fiber.”

Once the sheared fiber is cleaned, it’s sent to a company in Massachusetts for processing. 

“They put it in our fiber bank, and when we need socks, mittens, hats, gloves and various other items made from alpaca fiber, they make them and send them back to us,” Kruzicki noted. “These are all available for sale in our on-farm store, and everything is done is the USA.”

Shearing day also featured a food stand staffed by members of Grace Lutheran Church, and demonstrations by local blacksmith Clint Danke, along with spinning demonstrations, baby chicks for the kids to enjoy and even alpacas for them to pet.

Low-maintenance animals

Kruzicki is eager to help people become alpaca owners.

“We do sell some of our alpacas, but you should have at least two of them because they’re herd animals,” he stressed, “and my wife and I will come out to your farm and help you get started.”

They also help keep new owners from spending too much money. “It doesn’t take a lot of money to raise these animals. We spent way too much money when we got into it, but nobody taught us and we had to learn on our own.”

Once very expensive to purchase, alpacas are now more reasonably priced.

“Right now you can pick up alpacas for anywhere from $200 to $1,000,” Kruzicki said. 

He says the animals also are easy and inexpensive to care for. “Once they’re sheared, they spend all summer on pasture, and all we have to do is water them. In the winter our 35 animals need just three bales of hay per day.”

The cost to shear an alpaca is currently around $35. Shots are about $2 and teeth trimming is around $9 per animal, according to Kruzicki. 

He cautions that alpacas need vaccinations to protect them from the meningeal worm, a parasite carried by white-tailed deer and intermediate slug and snail hosts. 

“It lives and reproduces in the deer, which are not harmed by the parasite, but if it gets into the pasture and an alpaca eats the worm, it’s almost always fatal because it disrupts their nervous system. So we vaccinate our animals three times a year,” he said.

Spreading the word

As the alpaca’s unofficial good-will ambassador, Kruzicki travels with some of his animals to various area venues, including flea markets, wine and cheese festivals, nature centers and even churches.

He also gives presentations and seminars on alpacas to various civic groups. “I’ve spoken to local Rotary clubs, girl scout troops and many other organizations.”

Groups and individuals are also welcome to visit the farm.

“Call me at 715-752-3508, and we’ll set up a time for you to come out and see our animals, and see how much fun they are,” Kruzicki invited.

For more information, visit their website: www.kruzickiskemokrittersalpacas.com, or follow them on Facebook.

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