By Kelsie Thompson
Bath-DeWitt Connection staff writer
As Sharon Winsauer approached the barn in her back yard to retrieve a cup of what looked like dog food, six curious huacaya alpacas approached quickly knowing what was to come next.
Some might say such creatures look out of place in the state of Michigan, but to her, they were right at home.
As she fed her alpacas with an extended hand, the smile on her face showed she was pleased with the way her life had unexpectedly panned out.
“I couldn’t be happier,” Sharon Winsauer said. “It’s so amazing to look out your back window and see exotic animals running around.”
Sharon and her husband, Ron Winsauer’s, story started with an innovative use for the plethora of hair scattered around their home in Bath, Mich. from their Newfoundland puppy, Frodo.
Curious as to what could become of the hair, Winsauer, who had a career in computer programming, bought a spindle and spun the hair into a vest.
After discussing her newly discovered talent for spinning fiber with her daughter, Alisa, who lived in New Jersey at the time, Winsauer was introduced to the idea of farming alpacas for their soft and valuable fleece.
After visiting Alisa in July of 1997, the Winsauers returned home with “alpaca fever.”
By Jan. 1998, they had built a barn, put up a fence and owned five alpacas — two of which were pregnant.
Aurora Alpacas, 11020 N. Watson Rd., was born.
Alpacas, a domestic animal that resembles a small llama in appearance, originate from areas in South America including Chile, Peru and Bolivia.
Winsauer said they are commonly mistaken for llamas, but are generally much smaller. The average alpaca stands about four feet tall and weighs approximately 150-200 pounds, as opposed to a llama, who averages about five to six feet in height and weigh about 300-400 pounds, she said.
“They are very easy to care for,” Winsauer said. “They are very gentle, intelligent, clean and quiet animals — absolutely no complaints.”
She said the alpacas require only about 30 minutes of care every day. Their diet consists of grass, hay, nutrient supplements and water.
The alpacas at the Aurora Alpacas farm are sheared for their fiber about once a year, which is then either dyed or kept its original color to be spun into yarn. The yarn is either sold or used to make clothing such as scarves, shawls and socks.
In addition to spinning, knitting and selling the fiber from her alpacas, Winsauer also has found a knack for designing patterns, with a special interest in lace designs. She has a few hundred designs and patterns available for purchase on the Internet and all over the world.
“Alpaca fiber is lighter and warmer than wool,” Winsauer said. “It is very desirable.”
Winsauer also teaches knitting classes and coordinates alpaca shows throughout the U.S.
“We are very involved in the alpaca community,” she said. “There is over 200 small farms just in Michigan alone.”
Her next show, the Michigan Alpaca Breeders Show and Fiber Fair, is being held May 7-8 at the Springfield Oaks Activity Center, 12451 Andersonville Rd., Davisburg, Mich.
As far as the future goes, Winsauer said after her current herd of alpacas pass away, she doesn’t plan to purchase any more. She and her husband plan to travel the world.