Quite a yarn: Camerons discover – then share – a life-changing love of alpacas

February 2015 Posted in Business
Alpacas at Marquam Hills Ranch

Alpacas at Marquam Hills Ranch

By Melissa Wagoner

Ten years ago, Jennifer Cameron saw a photo of an alpaca in a newspaper that would alter the course of her life.

“She thought they were cute,” her husband Bill Cameron said.

“There was something about them I wanted to explore,” Jennifer added.

The Camerons embarked on a year long research project into the viability of investing in alpacas and discovered the timing was good.

“Our oldest son didn’t want his mom to volunteer in the schools anymore,” Bill said, adding that meant Jennifer was in the market for a hobby.

Alpacas appealed to her not just because they are cute, but because of their size.

“It’s doable for someone my size,” Jennifer said. “And this livestock is docile.”

The Camerons, who were living in Tigard, purchased five alpacas which they boarded.

Then five years ago, the Camerons invested in 18-acres outside of Molalla, building a house and barn and increasing their herd. The farm is on Hwy 213 next to AlexEli Vineyard and Winery.

Now they have about 95 alpacas, Bill said, adding an alpaca farmer can have between seven to 10 animals on an irrigated acre.

Alpacas at Marquam Hills Ranch
35835 S. Hwy 213, Molalla
Ranch & Gift Shop:
10 a.m. – 4 p.m. daily

What began as a hobby is now a full-time, family run business. The Camerons’ Alpacas at Marquam Hill Ranch includes the herd as well as a small, on-site, gift shop attached to the barn. The shop features alpaca yarn in a variey of weights and colors, as well as a clothing – hats, gloves, socks, sweaters – made from alpaca yarn.

“It’s been a learning process,” Jennifer said. She is still at the helm caring for the animals, but Bill has taken an active role in the business, becoming an alpaca fiber expert and competition judge.

“There are 22 natural colors. In one blanket you can have huge degrees of variants. It gives it the ability to have real niche markets because you don’t have to dye it. It’s very similar in microns to cashmere,” Bill said of alpaca fiber.

Bill and Jennifer Cameron with some of the ribbons their alpacas have won.

Bill and Jennifer Cameron with some of the ribbons their alpacas have won.

In early summer the Camerons invite the community to a shearing day open house. Families can watch as the animals are sheared and the fiber is sorted.

Then the Marquam Hills Ranch fiber is made into yarn.

“Once it’s been processed to yarn it’s easier to sell,” Jennifer said.

“People like the fact that it’s from this place,” Bill  said.

“When they come in, they’re looking for our stuff,” Jennifer agreed.

Besides fiber sales, the Camerons also sell alpacas which are of award-winning lineage. One of the farm’s breeding males has won top male in Denver competitions for three years. He is considered one of the top sires in the country.

“You don’t need a lot of males. We offer three or four percent of them for sale and a percentage are fiber males. We also find homes for them and have a program where we sell animals and offer a customer service package,” Jennifer said. Packages includes options like health checks and shearing, made easier and affordable when done on a large scale.

“There are people in the area who maybe want to have an animal to eat down the blackberries. We offer that option,” Jennifer said.

Besides selling animals and fiber, Jennifer, who has a degree in elementary education, makes sure there are learning opportunities. School groups can schedule tours and there is a 4-H program for children interested in showing alpacas.

This July the ranch will host a kids’ camp where campers will learn the history of alpacas as well as how to halter and care for them. They will get a chance to explore fiber art as well.

They also offer classes in fiber arts including spinning, felting and dyeing.

This fall the ranch has two big events scheduled.

The first, Dinner in the Field, is a farm-to-table meal where more than 100 people are invited to tour the ranch and enjoy local foods prepared on-site by a Portland chef. It will be held early in September. The second, National Alpaca Farm Days, will be held the end of September and is their biggest event.

“We can have upwards of 300 people,” Jennifer Cameron said.

The Camerons welcome anyone interested in fiber arts or getting to know alpacas better to come out to the ranch and check them out.

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