Here’s a riddle: What will I do to keep warm when it gets cold on a long trip?
Answer: Al-pac-a sweater. I’ll-pack-a sweater….
Okay, maybe it’s not the funniest riddle of all time, but it does remind us of the warm quality of genuine alpaca fiber. Today we’ll meet a rural Kansas alpaca producer who has marketed alpaca products to customers from across the nation and beyond.
Vickie Vandement is the owner of North 40 Alpacas near Osborne. She grew up in Osborne and studied speech pathology at Fort Hays State. She married Mitch, a fellow Osborne resident who studied business at K-State and came back to the community. Vickie is now a speech therapist for two nearby county hospitals.
In the early 2000s, after years in the cattle business, the Vandements thought about producing a different type of animal. In 2004, they got three alpacas and found they really enjoyed them. They grew the herd from there.
Alpacas are members of the camelid family, along with llamas. All of the Vandement alpacas are named and registered. “We breed for good personality and color,” Vandament said.
Instead of breeding stock, the Vandements wanted to sell products made from alpaca fiber. Alpaca fiber is prized for its softness, warmth retention, durability, and high quality. The Vandaments have their alpacas shorn annually and have the fiber processed into various products.
In 2012, they started taking their fiber products to craft shows. In 2015, they built a store of their own. It was located on land they owned which was part of a 40 acre tract along Highway 24 north of Osborne, so they named their business North 40 Alpacas. The store is collocated with the alpaca barn, so customers can view the live alpacas themselves as well as shop. In fact, they can even feed and pet the alpacas.
Tragically, Mitch passed away in late 2020. Vickie and a crew have continued the business.
Because alpaca products are primarily winter wear, the North 40 Alpacas store is only open from October to March and at other times by appointment. Through a program called Harvest Hosts, many RV travelers will stop and camp overnight near the store. North 40 also hosts tours.
The store is situated in a pretty, country setting, north of the rural community of Osborne, population 1,335 people. Now, that’s rural.
“Alpacas are smart, trainable animals,” Vandement said. “Even little kids can feed them and lead them. They are easy to care for.”
Alpacas are clean and sociable animals. Her alpacas have been part of birthday parties, graduation parties, family reunions and more.
“You can have them in your house,” Vandement said. On one memorable Halloween, the Vandements put an orange hat and a Halloween scarf on one of their alpacas to greet their guests at the door. Imagine what trick-or-treat was like at that house.
Alpacas are relatively inexpensive to feed. “You can feed an alpaca for much less than any pet,” Vandement said. Alpaca feet are cushioned with natural pads so they are easier on the ground than cows, for example.
But it’s alpaca fiber that makes them famous. “You need to experience it to realize the quality,” Vandement said. The soft, silky, luxurious fiber is particularly good at holding in heat. Socks, sweaters, scarves, blankets, and headbands are especially popular. “Customers have told us that the only socks they’ll have in the drawer now are alpaca socks,” Vandement said.
The store also offers small stuffed toy alpacas. These incredibly soft toy animals have been said to be helpful for autistic children or people with Alzheimers.
North 40 Alpaca products are sold online as well as in-store. The products have gone coast-to-coast and as far away as the Virgin Islands and Sweden. For more information, see www.north40alpacas.com.
So here’s a closing riddle: What is an alpaca’s favorite 1970s movie?
Answer: Alpaca-lypse Now.
Alright, no more alpaca jokes. We commend Vickie Vandement of North 40 Alpacas for making a difference with her specialty animal entrepreneurship. Her business success gives me a warm feeling, with every fiber of my being.
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