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Business

December 18, 2010

Shop Talk: HaSu Ranch Alpacas

HaSu Ranch Alpacas 939 McDougal Road, East Meredith Owners: Susan Muther and Hazen Reed Established: 1999 Employees: One ranch hand

Shop Talk is a weekly column featuring locally owned and operated businesses. This week, we talk to Susan Muther and Hazen Reed of HaSu Ranch Alpacas.

How long have you lived in the area?

Susan Muther: We moved here in 1999 from New York City after looking for the ideal property all over the country.

Tell me about your business:

Muther: We have several things wrapped up into (our) HaSu Ranch Alpacas business where more than 80 alpacas call home. We sell animals for pets, to add to or start alpaca ranches, and we sell fiber in addition to devoting a tremendous amount of our time to educating people about the fiber quality and versatility. We attend shows with our animals and we establish marketing packages for fellow alpaca enthusiasts.

Describe a typical day in your business:

Hazen Reed: The animals are very easy to take care of; they are hearty and do not require the amount of care and maintenance that many other livestock operations need. There is rarely a typical day since we have clients who are interested in purchasing the alpaca fiber or our champion line animals. We have people from all over the world who contact us with questions that they have and to inquire about our alpaca-boarding facilities. These are the business details, and then with the animals themselves we may be checking on pregnant females, evaluating their coats, taking care of any young animals that may need some extra attention, feeding, cleaning and simply enjoying their unique personalities.

How did you get started in this line of work?

Muther: It's a funny story, but it all began with an article that I read in the New York Times about raising alpacas. It was easy to fall in love with the animals immediately, but we gathered a great deal of information, developed a business plan and decided that we wanted to start an alpaca ranch.

Where do you see this business in five years?

Reed: We will focus on more of the product aspects of alpacas. The quality and versatility of their fiber is amazing, so an online store will be something we plan on. The animals at HaSu are very selectively bred, and maybe we will become even more selective.

Describe a memorable moment in your workplace:

Muther: One of the memorable moments was when one of our mother alpacas gave birth to healthy twins. For alpacas this is rare, first to have twins but to have both babies survive and be healthy is extremely rare. We were really amazed and happy that our animal, our ranch is where it happened.

What have you learned from your work?

Reed: Everything about alpacas and the growing interest in these animals. We have learned about the importance of an experienced vet, the value of dependable farm help and how large of a community of knowledgeable artisan fiber people there is in this region.

What is the most challenging part of what you do?

Muther: The animals are easy to manage, but there are challenges with getting more people interested in raising alpacas. There is a market, but more people need to be involved to have it really take off.

The most enjoyable?

Muther: Seeing the animals, the results that have taken place over our years of selectively breeding our herd. We have generations of alpacas here and when we first started, we were thrilled to get any ribbon at the shows. Now we consistently receive the top awards.

How do you define success for your business?

Reed: The expanding interest in alpaca fiber and raising alpacas. When we started, there were very, very few alpaca ranches, and every year there are more, with many that we played a part in helping to get them started.

What are some advantages as well as drawbacks of doing business in this area?

Muther: It is difficult to come up with disadvantages, but there are so many advantages. This area is near enough to large cities so that contacts are easy to make, and those populations make our products more valued. Another advantage to this area for our business is the number of fiber artisans here who are looking for our fiber.

Reed: Maybe a drawback is the weather; there is such a limited and unpredictable window of time when temperatures, rain or snow are not a consideration.

What sets you apart from your competitors?

Reed: We have no competitors; I don't ever see that as an issue because the more alpaca ranches there are in this region, the more likely fiber people will come here (to this area) to buy. That being said, we are possibly the only ranch in the Eastern United States to have champion-line breeding programs for both the Peruvian Suri and Huacaya Alpaca breeds, so that would certainly set us apart.

What advice would you give to someone trying to enter your field of work?

Muther: These are the greatest animals to have, so the advice is to get started. These animals are gentle and environmentally friendly, easy to care for and produce a fiber that is highly regarded and saleable. For those who are just getting started in farming, this is the animal that will not tear up the ground, does not require extensive vet services and can thrive on some of the lowest-quality hay.

Shop Talk interviews are conducted by Terry Hannum. For information, call The Daily Star at 432-1000, ext. 217, or e-mail news@thedailystar.com.

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