CELINA — Mary and Norm Zahn began researching what they wanted to do for after their retirement 10 years ago. After talking, visiting farms and attending shows, they decided to invest in alpacas.
“We had been to several shows and farms that we had visited to see the different animals and we were just so impressed with their demeanor,” Mary Zahn said. “They’re very curious animals and they make a humming sound and they’re just real calming to be around. They’re not excitable hardly at all.”
It was important to the Zahns they chose something they felt would be a good investment.
“We were looking for something to do in our retirement years that we could still make money on but not be overly busy,” Mary Zahn said. “(Alpacas) are not hard to take care of. Once you get your breeding system lined up you can make some pretty good money.”
The Zahns said they were happy to find that alpacas are not harsh on the land they occupy.
“We were building a new farm and we didn’t want something that would tear down the fences and tear down and ruin the pastures,” Mary Zahn said. “(Alpacas) only have bottom teeth, so when they bite the grass they just bite the grass form the ground up so they’re always leaving a little bit of the grass so the grass grows back up. They’re not rough on fences and they don’t chew on wood like horses and cows do.”
Alpacas are part of the camel family and are generally mild-tempered with an inquisitive nature.
“It’s just fun and relaxing to watch them because they are curious animals and they’re so fun to be around,” Mary Zahn said. “Alpacas love to roll in the dirt. They like to play king of the hill. It’s fun when they first run out into the pasture. They’re just so excited to get out there.”
Alpacas are indigenous to Peru and typically stand around 4 feet tall and weigh between 100 and 200 pounds. There are two types of breeds of alpaca, the suri and the huacaya. Both types are identical, except for their fleece.
“(Huacaya) look like big, fluffy teddy bears, I say,” Mary Zahn said. “Their fiber has a crimp to it. We raise the suri. Basically they’re the same animal. Sometimes, when their hair is recently shorn, you can’t really tell the difference between them at all.”
The Zahns started Coldwater Creek Alpacas four years ago. At the time, they had one alpaca that they boarded at another farm.
“We didn’t have this built or the pastures done or the hay field done, and we wanted to make sure we had all that in place before we started bringing animals here,” Mary Zahn said.
They acquired more alpacas during the years and brought their animals to their home in June, with the exception of one.
“Our first baby wasn’t actually born here on the farm because it was too close to (the mother’s) due date to move her from the other farm that we had her boarded at,” Mary Zahn said.
“She was actually born at the other farm and my husband got to watch her being born.”
In addition to breeding their alpacas, the Zahns also show them. Members of the Ohio Alpaca Breeding Association, the Alpaca Owners Breeders Association and the Suri Network, the Zahns have taken their alpacas to several shows. They typically attend six shows in a year.
Alpacas are judged on their bone structure, walk and, most importantly, their fiber.
“(Their fiber) is judged by the softness of it, the luster that they have, the luster is how it shines in the light, and also if it’s uniform throughout their whole body,” Mary Zahn said.
They are hoping to open a shop to sell products made from alpaca fleece, including socks, coats and sweaters. Alpaca fleece is lightweight and warm, with an insulating factor similar to a polar bear rug, Mary Zahn said. She also wants to help people with her alpaca products.
“Since I work at a nursing home, I would like to do something that helps out people who have diabetes,” she said. “Since they can’t have a lot of weight on their legs because sometimes they have problems with their legs and feet with the swelling, I want something that’s going to give them some warmth, but is lightweight.”
Mary Zahn said one of the best things about raising alpacas is the community of farmers.
“They’re all very helpful. If you’ve got any questions you can call any alpaca farmer and they’ll be more than willing to answer your questions and give you suggestions and things like that,” she said.
The willingness to help among the alpaca farming community even extends to shows.
“We all help each other out. If we can’t make it to a show, someone else will show him for us, we just give them permission,” Mary Zahn said. “Or if we’re at a show and they can’t make it, say they’re having a baby born at home, we’ll show their animals for them, so it works out really nice.”
She also said she enjoys the stress-relief she receives from the alpacas.
“If I’ve had a bad day at work, I’ll go back and feed the animals and clean up out there and it’s just real relaxing to me,” Mary Zahn said.
“They’re so curious and it’s fun to watch them when they go out into the pasture because they’re like little kids when they go out there. They dance around and jump around out there.”
In the future, Mary Zahn said she hopes to get the youth of the community involved. She would like to teach the next generation about alpacas, including her granddaughter who is currently working on training one of their alpacas.
She advised anyone interested in alpacas to do some research.
“Visit many farms if you’re interested in getting into the business or if you’re thinking about purchasing an alpaca,” Mary Zahn said.
“Even people who live in the city can own alpacas. They’ll board them at someone else’s place and just go there on the weekend or in the evenings. Go to some shows. Shows are always free and open to the public. Get to see if it’s something they would like.”
On Sept. 24 and 25, the Zahns are looking forward to National Alpaca Farm Day.
All are welcome to come to their farm to learn about and see their alpacas.
Anyone interested in visiting, learning, breeding or buying alpaca products can contact Mary and Norm Zahn at 419-678-8621 or at Coldwatercreekalpacas@gmail.com. For more information about their farm, visit ColdwaterCreekAlpacas.com.