- Associated Press - Sunday, October 2, 2016

TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (AP) - Austin Schriver had his pick of the soft, lovable creatures in the White Violet Center for Eco-Justice’s 4-H alpaca club, and he chose Wynne.

He pointed to a picture of the brown alpaca on a flier. “He seemed like the right one,” said Austin, 11, a first-year 4-H member who showed Wynne at the county and state fairs this summer.

The club is one of a number of programs the center hosts, educating children and adults alike about the animals. The center hosted an open house Sept. 25 in conjunction with the Alpaca Owners Association’s National Alpaca Farm Days, which promotes the U.S. industry.

Families were allowed to pet some of the alpacas, watch fiber art demonstrations and learn more about the center’s programming. The center is a ministry of the Sisters of Providence.

There are currently 40 alpacas on the farm, including three babies - called “crias.” One alpaca is expecting at the end of October.

“They’re a strong component of helping fulfill our mission and ministry,” said Lorrie Heber, the center’s director.

The alpacas’ manure fertilizes the center’s vegetable gardens. Their wool is sheared to be made into yarn to give to artists or sell at Linden Leaf Gifts at the Providence Spirituality & Conference Center.

Charlotte Black demonstrated the first step in that process.

Seated behind a traveler, she reached for a skein of washed and disentangled wool, kicked off her sandals and pressed the machine’s pedals to twist the fibers.

“Twisting makes it stronger, so it makes a more durable product,” explained Black, a member of a weekly spinning group that meets at the center.

In the barn, 18 alpacas packed in behind the gate, wandering over to greet the small crowd of parents, grandparents and children waiting for their turn to pet one.

One alpaca was wearing a mask to keep dirt out of an eye injury.

Native to South America, alpacas are relative newcomers to the U.S. There are nearly 10,000 members and more than 230,000 alpacas in the owners association database. The White Violet Center began raising the animals in 1999.

Alpacas stand about 3 feet high and weigh between 100-200 pounds. Their average lifespan is 15 to 20 years.

“They are very intelligent,” said Austin, who was volunteering at the open house.

John Camp brought his 11-year-old grandson, Neal Antonio, to the barn to see the alpacas. It had been a couple years since Neal had the chance to pet one.

“You’re right, they are soft,” he told another visitor.

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Source: (Terre Haute) Tribune-Star, http://bit.ly/2de7k9O

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Information from: Tribune-Star, http://www.tribstar.com

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