There are two sides to Ron Dies alpaca farm, Prairie Wind Alpacas, in Lehigh.
In one way, raising 25 alpacas is serious business. Ron Dies said that he does not want the animals too tame, coming up and wanting attention all the time. The alpacas are livestock and they should be focused on one thing — breeding.
Dies pays close attention to the animals’ medical records. He will pay over $10,000 for a top male with a quality bloodline. With alpacas that means their offspring grow fiber that is curly, springy, soft, and thick — the type of fiber that is converted into high-dollar sweaters and jackets. Dies has several male alpacas with high fiber producing ability, including a silver-gray colored male that is valued because of the unique hue. When those males breed with females on other farms, they can fetch fees of $3,000 or more.
The alpaca rancher takes care of his herd because he is protecting his investment. He grows and blends his own feed, rich with vitamins. The food has been tested by Kansas State University. Dies said it is proven to allow his alpacas to live longer, breed more effectively, and produce healthier babies who can walk within 11 minutes of birth.
He makes sure to give the animals shots to worm them, sheers them twice a year, trims their toenails, and cleans their pens thoroughly on a biweekly basis to keep his alpacas healthy.
Business is good. On top of the breeding, with some alpaca babies going for over $10,000, he sells the fiber, and the droppings, which are a nitrogen rich fertilizer.
He also takes care of them because he really likes his animals.
Although he presents himself as an analytical producer, any listener could tell that Dies has, at the very least, a fascination with the idiosyncrasies of his alpacas. He said he can tell what type of winter is coming based on how the alpaca fiber starts to grow in the fall. He’s predicting a second-consecutive mild winter.
He remarked that alpacas are smarter than other livestock. His example is that he has trained the alpacas to eat in a designated order. He said on the cue of banging the dinner trough, the animals line up in that order, with the younger animals never disrupting the hierarchy to cut in front of their established brethren.
He has names for each of the alpacas and he said that they know and respond to their names. Angel, Princess, Bella, Magic, Smoke, Cognac, Tico, Rocky, and Southern Comfort all have different personalities. Some of those personalities conflict — two of the males have to be separated because they have a tendency to spit and fight with one another. Rocky, a white Bolivian alpaca, is extremely laid back, bordering on lazy. Dies added that if he fed the animals more than once a day, Rocky would be as round as a barrel.
One of his favorite activities is to sit at the dining room table with his wife, Ruthann, and look out at the alpacas frolicking in the yard from the window. They get a chuckle out of watching the baby alpacas run with the goats up and down the fence line. They can get another perspective of how the personalities of their alpacas coexist without influencing the animals with their presence.
The reason Dies has kept the alpaca farm going for seven years, expanding from two gelded males to a herd of 25 with 14 females, has more to do with his interaction with the animals than the business. He said alpacas are fun animals to care for; their relaxed nature is soothing as a post retirement venture.