Well, back in Colorado yesterday, a travel jet lagged Christie and her wonderful mom, Faith, headed down to catch the last of the Estes Park Wool Market. The weekend long festival is in its 22nd year and draws over 10,000 people in attendance. The event features demonstrations, contests, exhibits and sales of animal fibers with an amazing array of products made from wool. People from across the country annually travel to Estes Park to attend and show off their beautiful animals and products made from their natural fibers. Booths are set up with miles of yarn for sale, demonstrations on weaving and shearing techniques, sales of leather shoes, jackets, gorgeous sweaters, hats, scarves and basically anything else one could think of to make from wool. Click here to watch a short clip from the event!
The quality of the hand crafted items and the excitement of designers, venders and producers to explain their processes and craftsmanship demonstrated their passion for their products and their passion for small business. It was entrepreneurship at its finest! The only thing missing from this event was a booth from Noya Fibers explaining how the traceability and herding techniques of goats can greatly improve the quality of cashmere. Next year! Please check out our fellow Colorado State University MBA GSSE classmates as they are currently in Mongolia researching how to help restore natural grasslands and create traceability in the supply chain of cashmere products from Mongolia all the way to your local Patagonia retailer. We now return to our scheduled programing…
The Estes Park Wool Market also had numerous circus size tents set up and barns housing all the various animals, most of which fall in the biological family of Camelids or Camelidae. Camelids are “large animals with slender necks and long legs, and are strictly herbivorous.” My mom and I made our way from tent to tent to see the sheep, goats, llamas (!), alpacas and vicuñas up close and personal. Of these animals those that are considered camelids are llamas, alpacas, vicuñas, camels and guanacos (the latter two were not present at the EP Wool Market). Vicuñas are prevalent in Bolivia and are extremely valued because their fiber is incredibly soft and some of the most expensive in the world because the animals can only be shorn every 3 years. Vicuñas were once declared an endangered species with numbers down to 6,000 in 1974 but with the help of conservation programs the population has been brought up to 350,000.
Guanacos are similarly interesting as they are one of the biggest mammal species in South America, their fiber is highly valued (second only to vicuñas), they have only one natural predator (the mountain lion) and like llamas and alpacas will spit when they feel threatened. Alpacas are similar to llamas but are smaller, are primarily used for their fiber, and are not bred to be “beasts of burden” like llamas. The four animals that are inhabitants of South America are llamas, alpacas, guanacos and vicuñas. So what makes llamas different than these other animals? Llamas have long “banana” shaped ears, long fiber that is soft, no dorsal hump, and can come in various colors (spotted like a cow, polka dotted like cheetahs or mono-colored in shades of white, brown, black or grey). Additionally, llamas are bigger than the other three South American camelids, they have larger brains, longer curved ears and are extremely social herd animals. So now with that small zoological lesson out of the way, let’s get back to the EP Wool Market!
I spoke with one woman from Wyoming who with her husband have raised llamas for many years after their daughters started raising them through 4-H. Karen told me that when their daughters started 4-H it was important that she and her husband like the animals as well since they knew they would be caring for them after their daughters were grown. Which is why they chose llamas because they are good natured, easily domesticated, well trained and nice animals to have around. When asked about the care of their llamas and use of the llama manure she explained that they do use some of it for fertilizer. She also said they only shear their llamas once a year so the fiber is long enough to have a substantial amount. Another woman who raises llamas in Loveland, CO said she and her husband use their llama manure as “date money.” They do not have enough crops to use all their manure so they occasionally sell it. She explained they do not advertise commercially but either through word of mouth or the sporadic Craig’s List ad will sell excess manure. They do not process it or compost the manure but simply load it into the back of a pickup truck and drive it to the buyer’s property. The sales differ from person to person and how far the distance is between the transport but they will charge $1.00 per mile at the very least and will sometimes sell it for an additional minimal bulk price. She didn’t have a dollar figure for that as she said it varies on the amount of manure and distance being traveled. However, she said it gives her and her husband date money or a fun night out if they have to drive their truck to Boulder anyways. It was interesting that whoever I spoke with about their llamas lit up at the chance to explain how they cared for, raised and used their llamas. It was clear they were passionate about the uniqueness of the creatures and that they were not just barn yard animals. Everyone had named their llamas, and could tell me about their individual personalities, traits and why they got into the business of llama raising.
It was a fascinating afternoon and the Estes Park Wool Market is an event worth attending if you live anywhere near the Front Range in Colorado. It is a distinctive event and can provide a window in to the U.S. market for llamas, alpacas and other animals used for their wool. I took lots of pictures so if you want to see some adorable animals please click through the album!