Updated: Nearly Naked Alpaca Day planned in Prosser (w/video)

Dori O'Neal, Tri-City HeraldMay 15, 2014 

Pack up the kids and head to Prosser on Saturday for Nearly Naked Alpaca Day.

Forty adorable alpacas -- minus their recently shorn furry coats -- await visitors at Jennifer and John Ely's Sage Bluff Alpaca farm.

Saturday's open house at the Ely farm, 8401 S. Steele Road in Prosser, will feature demonstrations on spinning alpaca fleece into yarn, a selection of alpaca retail clothing, tours of the farm, refreshments and plenty of country fresh air. Hours are from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The animals are almost naked because their fleece is sheared in the spring, Jennifer Ely said. That allows them to stay cooler during the summer months.

Alpacas are social creatures, full of curiosity, but don't try to pet them.

"They shy away quickly if you reach your hand out toward them," Ely said. "But if you lean your head toward them, they have been known to come closer and maybe even give a kiss."

The Elys run a multi-purpose farm. They raise and sell alpacas, provide breeding service, and process the fleece into finished goods.

They started raising their herd about seven years ago, when they visited the Prosser Farmers Market and a breeder happened to be on site that day.

"I fell in love with these animals the first time I saw them," she said. "They are gentle and sweet and their fleece is the finest, much softer than most other natural fibers."

Alpacas are native to Peru, Bolivia and Chile. They are similar to llamas in their wooliness, but much smaller in size and not aggressive.

They are bred for their fleece and are not pack animals, Ely said.

"Alpacas sell anywhere from hundreds of dollars to thousands of dollars," she said. "It just depends on their intended use, the quality of their fleece and genetics."

An alpaca female's gestation is about 11 months, and three to four weeks after giving birth the females are bred again, she said.

"Female alpacas just seem to love being mothers," Ely said. "And it's not uncommon for them to be pregnant and nursing a baby at the same time."

It's heartwarming to watch the herd's reaction to a new birth, she added. They gently approach the mother and her new baby, sniffing the newborn, called a cria -- Spanish for baby.

Two Great Pyrenees dogs, Henry and his sister Maddie, guard the herd 24/7. Most of the mothers will allow the dogs to check out newborns and give them a sniff. Once that's done, the dogs move off in opposite directions and lay down to assume their guard duties, Ely said.

"Surprisingly, we have more problems with wild pack dogs here in Prosser that kill for sport than we do with coyotes (or cougars)," Ely said. "But nothing gets past Henry and Maddie. They're up all night guarding the herd, then they nap during the day."

Henry will no doubt be on hand at the open house to greet visitors. If you play your cards right and give him a hug or a scratch behind the ear, he might just follow you anywhere. Maddie, on the other hand, is a bit more standoffish and keeps her focus on her alpaca charges, Ely said.

"It'll be a great day for the family to visit on Saturday," Ely said. "We'll answer any questions and we'll have refreshments too."

-- Dori O'Neal: 582-1514; doneal@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @dorioneal

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