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A Star is Born

Alpaca named for celestial body is 11-time champion

An alpaca discussion at Man in the Moon Farm. (Photo By: Gregg MacDonald)


by Gregg MacDonald, Staff Writer

In Greek mythology, Ganymede was said to be the “loveliest born of the race of mortals.” So lovely, in fact, that Zeus brought him to Olympus to be a wine-pourer for the gods. Galileo later named Jupiter’s largest moon “Ganymede” due to what he said was its “majesty of light.”

Ganymede the Alpaca has ties to both these legends.

The Light Huacaya alpaca, the first male born at Man in the Moon Farm in New Castle, Va., is said, by those who know about such things, to have “an amazing fleece with an unbelievable structure and density.” This feature has served him well, making him an 11-time champion and four-time Judge’s Choice winner for his near-perfect fiber and body style.

He was also named an Alpaca Owners Association National Supreme Champion in 2017.

“When it comes to judging alpacas, it’s all about the fleece,” says Brenda Landes, co-owner of Man in the Moon Farm. “Alpacas were originally created by the Incas, by breeding vicuñas and llamas,” she adds.

“There are two distinct breeds of alpaca; Huacaya and Suri,” says her husband, Mark Edmonds. “Huacayas’ fleece is full, crimpy and fuzzy throughout, while Suri fleece is more of a straight fiber that hangs down like dreadlocks. In all, there are 16 different colors of fleece recognized by the AOA.”


Brenda Landes and some of the alpacas at Man in the Moon Farm. (Photo By: Gregg MacDonald)

Today, Huacayas are considered the dominant breed, making up about 90% of all alpacas. It is believed that Suris may have been more dominant in pre-Columbian Peru, when they could live at lower altitudes without fear of being hunted. They may have developed thicker, shorter fleece when they migrated to higher altitudes and had to endure mountain weather conditions, especially during winter.

Both fleece types are considered luxury fibers in the modern textile industry because of their unique qualities, and both can command hefty prices. Alpaca wool is expensive because it is considered a high-quality, exclusive fiber.

Alpacas can only be shorn once a year at most, which limits the fleece availability. Prices can also increase exponentially when garments are labeled fair-trade, animal-friendly and/or of fine, high-wool quality.

“They’re adorable, intelligent and calming animals,” says Landes. “They’re light on the land, as they have padded feet rather than hooves. They are ideal for relatively small acreage and can be stocked at 6 to 8 head per acre for grazing. They produce an amazing fiber which is said to be hypoallergenic, is amazingly soft, naturally water repellant, lightweight and warm.”

When compared to sheep’s wool, even Merino wool, alpaca fleece is softer, stronger, warmer and retains less water. It is also considered by many to be more environmentally sustainable in terms of ecological impact. According to the AOA, alpacas are also comparatively very safe for children to work with and are even used as companion animals.

“We really didn’t have fleece in mind when we got into this,” says Edmonds. People always ask us, ‘Why alpacas?’The truth is that we considered all kinds of livestock, many with a much more obvious and conventional business operation and revenue stream. But we wanted more, we wanted something we could interact with every day. We wanted something that would bring joy and passion.”

“Once you see a baby alpaca, it’s all over,” adds Edmonds. “In 2011, we started a journey of researching alpacas to see if a viable business plan could be made.We visited dozens of farms and found that lots of them were thriving. And we also found alpaca people to generally be friendly and from all walks of life, warm and welcoming. We fell in love with both: the alpacas, and the people who owned them.”


Ganymede in the winner’s circle. (Photo Courtesy: Brenda Landes)

Landes says it remains mind-boggling to her that Ganymede was named a 2017 AOA National Supreme Champion.

“It all started when we met a woman named DebbieHarden-Vigus at a Virginia Alpaca Owners & Breeders Association show before we ever had our first alpaca,” she says.

“We watched her display a few of her males and we visited her booth. It was only after we purchased our own alpacas, and we were making our own breeding decisions, that this came back into play,” Landes recalls. “We purchased a few breedings from her at West Penn Alpacas, and it was our good fortune to choose her alpaca, Zeus, as a partner for our Bianca. Ganymede was the result and the rest is history.”

As the son of Zeus, Hercules would have been a logical name for the baby alpaca, but Landes says she’s always had a thing for the cosmos and she wanted to go that route.

“We named him Ganymede after one of Jupiter’s moons and named all of our subsequent alpacas after other celestial bodies,” she says. ‘Man in the Moon’ is something both cosmic and from childhood, so we wanted to have names that fell in line with that theme.”

Today, the farm hosts about 50 alpacas, each named after a planet, star, moon, constellation or other celestial body. Several others are also up-and-coming award winners.

Ganymede is co-owned by Rancho Inca Alpacas, located in Navasota, Texas, and the alpaca now spends some time there each year.

An architect by trade, Landes says she is looking forward to cutting her work hours and eventually retiring to spend more time on the Johns Creek farm she and her husband bought in 1993.

In addition to raising alpacas, they also rent a three-bedroom, two-bathroom cottage through Airbnb that allows visitors to watch the alpacas frolicking in the pastures. They also host a farm tour that allows for more personal interaction with the fuzzy inhabitants.

“We’re also proud to announce that we have now opened a farm store where we sell alpaca-related items including blankets, hats, scarves and socks,” says Landes.

For more information about Man in the Moon Farm, go to mmfalpacas.com.