Yarns to spin

Published 9:38 pm Thursday, November 3, 2011

Eric, the senior resident alpaca of the Olongardaille Family Farm, shows why these cuddly animals are so popular. The smaller cousin of the llama was first introduced to the United States in 1984 from Chile. Between that time and 2007 when Cody Harrington purchased Eric, the national herd had grown to more than 100,000 animals.

Decades ago, Cody Harrington’s great-great-great-great-grandfather moved from Ohio and began farming in the Galien area. Chances are he had never heard of the livestock Harrington raises on his parent’s “farmette.”
“I was looking around our property and noticed there was a lot to take care of. One of the ways to cut down on the yard care is animals because they eat a lot of grass, that was my original reasoning,” says Harrington, who works alongside his father in the senior Harrington’s woodworking and construction business in addition to being a student at Lake Michigan College.

The other reason?
“All my friends were buying cars, $50,000 cars, and I really didn’t want to do that so I decided why not get an alpaca for the same kind of payments they were making and have an investment and farm labor, too.”
Harrington bought two male alpaca in 2007 followed by the purchase of a gelding and a pregnant female, Sapphire, to work a second pasture. Sapphire gave birth to Halen then Fleetwood. By the time Halen added Ozzie to the rock ‘n’ roll mix, there were seven in the herd.
“They are an interesting animal, and there were not a lot of farmers raising them around here, though there are some. I like them because they are a more exotic animal, and the fleece can supply an income,” Harrington said.
Yarn from the fleece of the alpaca is much sought after with its angora-like feel and is second only to cashmere in softness.  The fiber can sell from two to three dollars an ounce for a prime adult fine grade to three to five dollars an ounce for superfine fiber from a baby. This premium grade is known as prime royal baby.
“The stitching used on the Land Rover upholstery is done with alpaca yarn because of its strength. We hope to have yarn available next May,” Harrington said.
Currently, Harrington employs a South Bend woman to shear his alpaca each spring. The spinning of the yarn is something he plans to do onsite.  For now, he sells the raw fleece, occasionally keeping the remainder in preparation for spinning.
More than just an alpaca farm, the Olongardaille (Celtic form of Harrington) Family Farm, 6545 Forest Lawn Rd., Three Oaks, raises chickens, ducks and turkeys and may add goats to the mix.
“In the future, I would love to have one or two more female alpaca as well,” Harrington said.
“Right now, I am more than willing to sell a couple of the males in order to keep the herd manageable. After all, we live on more of a farmette than a full-out farm.”
Harrington has chosen his chickens using much the same criteria as he did with the alpaca. With varieties such as Black Australorp and Orpington in addition to the better-known Rhode Island and New Hampshire Reds, the more exotic looking the better.

Visitors welcomed
This spring, the Harrington family intends to invite area tourists and second home owners from the Chicago area to bring their children to visit the farm.
“I enjoy this as a hobby and want to develop it as a sort of petting farm for kids to come out and see the turkeys and the chickens that lay the eggs, pet the alpaca and goats and get out to see the duck pond.
“I think it would be a great experience for them,” said Harrington, who would one day like to be a teacher.
In the meantime, he will be providing visitors with a yarn of their own to spin.