Made Here at Home: US Alpaca Co. contributes to rebounding American textile industry
Franklin County's Jay Pratley starts the day checking on his herd of 72 alpacas, calling "here, girls" to the pen of females that stand at attention.
Pratley and his wife, Robbin Martinelli, started their alpaca farm with just five females as a tax write-off in retirement, but now Pratley says they're using the alpacas' coats to contribute to the rebounding American textiles industry.
"The alpaca industry has not hit critical mass. We are at the precipice of an explosion of a popularity in the United States, and we are going to be in the forefront of that here in Hardy," Pratley said.
Pratley oversees the herd's health and the breeding program. Pratley chooses breeding partners to create the best fibers possible, which are judged by the crimp pattern, sheen, and density.
Pratley says they cut the alpacas' coats in late March or early April, hiring sheep shearers from New Zealand and recruiting local volunteers.
Each alpaca puts out up to 15 pounds of fiber, for 400 bags in total this year.
They keep some of the fibers for their own use, sending others to major manufacturers like Ralph Lauren and Pendleton.
"We're actually going to be leading the charge when the public realizes the virtues of alpaca," Pratley said. "It's water repellent, hypoallergenic, and it can wick. It is seven times stronger than wool and half the weight, three times warmer. It's amazing fiber, even fire resistant naturally."
When the U-S Olympic team walked into the Opening Ceremony in Pyeongchang this year, they did so in
The Pratley-Martinellis set aside some of their yearly yield for their own products, sold at their retail store
Robbin Martinelli designs a lot of the apparel. One of their top sellers is her own creation, an all-natural alpaca pillows. She says they're selling as quickly as they can make them.
"'Made in America' for us is huge," Martinelli said. "It's what we're doing. It's in our business is to create and make as many products in the United States as we can."
Pratley says they also sell alpaca manure to local farmers at $40 a bag.
And the final component to their farm: education. Pratley leads
for families and groups on the farm. They charge $5 a head and promise far more than a "petting zoo" experience.