Woodland alpaca farm indulges in some shear fun

By Dave Kern, Columbian assistant metro editor



Did you know?

Daryl Gohl is president of Quechua Benefit, which brings medical, dental and optical care to the highlands of Peru. The nonprofit group also provides clothing, medicine, shelter, food and sociological services to the Quechua, with a focus on children. Gohl has traveled to Peru for the past three years. For more information, visit http://www.quechu...

It was shearing day Sunday at Columbia Mist Alpacas in Woodland.

At 3:30 p.m., Allan Godsiff, originally from New Zealand, was giving a close cut to Merlot, the brown fleece looking rich and warm. She was the 40th animal that Godsiff had clipped.

And the day was significant for more than one reason.

"We have two new babies. One was born today when we were shearing," said farm co-owner Daryl Gohl. They named the baby Maggie.

Daryl and wife Ruthie have been raising alpacas for 14 years and have 58 of them on their 8 acres.

There is a pattern to the shearing.

"They take the blanket off first," Daryl said, referring to the fleece on the animal's back.

Then off comes the hair on the neck, and then the legs

and underbelly. A two-speed blower is used first to get dust and grime out of the fleece.

"It's physical," Godsiff, 54, said of shearing. He's been at it for 35 years. "Sheep are harder physically than alpaca."

Two other alpaca lovers from the area were holding each animal as the shearing continued. There was the occasional complaint from the animal and a kick or two.

Godsiff was completing each animal in about 10 minutes. He was changing blades about once an hour and the top cutter about three times an hour.

Godsiff was complimentary about the Gohl's alpacas.

"They've got great fiber," said the shearer, who hails from Hawk's Bay, New Zealand, but lives in Sisters, Ore., these days. Shearing has taken him to Chile and England, as well as New Zealand and the U.S.

Daryl and Ruthie are high on their animals.

"Alpaca is far more durable and warm than any other fiber," Daryl said. "People like it because if feels so good on your skin."

Ruthie noted that baby's hair is about 60 microns thick while an alpaca's is 15 to 25 microns.

"It's fine. That's why it's so soft," she said.

Unlike wool, she said, with alpaca garments there is no itching.

And it is very much a business. If you want to buy a female, prices range from $2,500 to $25,000. If you want a stud, expect to pay $20,000 or more, Daryl said.

The shearing was taking place in a 44-by-48-foot shed. The similar-sized shed next to it houses the store and the sorting area.

Frieda Schieber of Woodland was grading the fleece. Some will be good for sweaters, some for coats and heavier garments. The fleece is sold mostly locally, with some customers from as far away as Yakima, Daryl said.

And it is important to understand the animal's history.

"We breed based on statistics," Daryl said. "I'm a numbers guy."

He is a former human resources manager for a health system, and Ruthie is the former director of medical nursing at what is now PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center. Ruthie is still teaching nursing and is the executive director of Battle Ground HealthCare, a free clinic.

In the shed, Apollo was waiting for a trim. Ruthie kneeled and blew him a kiss.

"They don't like to be touched, but they like to smell your breath," she said. "I'm in love with alpacas. If they get sick, I'm up all night with them, just like a baby."

In the store, a white V-neck alpaca sweater was priced at $135. A skein of alpaca yarn is $13.

Daryl said there are more than 200,000 alpacas in the U.S., and the U.S. no longer allows alpacas to be imported.

But he noted: "We're now taking fleece back to Peru, and they are marveling at what we've done in the United States."