- The Washington Times - Monday, June 8, 2009

WESTMINSTER, Md. (AP) | Mary Clark and her husband, Barry, have lived the city life and now call a farm near Westminster home. They share it with 19 alpacas, three llamas, four barn cats, three house cats and two dogs.

The Clarks said goodbye to their hectic urban life 18 months ago when Mrs. Clark quit being a counselor at the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the family left a Kensington-area home to breed and raise alpacas in rural Carroll County.

Mr. Clark still works four days a week for the Department of Energy in Germantown, but the rest of the week includes cleaning the barn, feeding and talking to the animals.

“I fell in love with Barry first, then we fell in love with the farm, then Barry fell in love with alpacas,” Mrs. Clark said.

The Clarks were married six years ago. She had been a single mom who adopted two teen Peruvian girls as infants; he also had two children.

“We literally had to make an appointment on the calendar to have a game night with the two kids at home,” Mr. Clark said. “It was pretty hectic.”

“We started looking for property in the country to retire to and to visit on weekends and vacation. Then we saw this place and fell in love with it,” he said.

That was five years ago.

“The farm was the stimulus to start thinking about what we wanted,” Mrs. Clark said. “We wanted to keep our income up and the stress level down. We wanted more enjoyment in our life, more family time. We wanted to relax and have fun and do something that would be a stable investment.”

After considering traditional livestock, miniature horses and greyhound rescue, Mrs. Clark suggested alpacas, which she grew familiar with during visits to Peru.

Mr. Clark was more skeptical until he found a number of breeders through the Maryland Alpaca Breeders Association and learned more.

“It’s not like a dairy farm, where you work from sunup to sundown. Basically, it’s a couple of hours a day, in the morning and in the evening,” he said. “And hanging around them just makes you feel good. They have a gentle nature. They are curious like cats.

“It’s relatively easy to have a sustainable income” from breeding and selling the animals, their fleece and yarn, he said.

A “pet quality” alpaca costs about the same as a good dog, about $500 to $1,000, and a breeding female, depending on lineage and fleece quality, can cost $10,000 and up.

“Breeding males are $10,000 to the sky’s the limit,” he said.

About four years ago, the Clarks bought their first alpacas and boarded them at first while learning how to care for them.

They raise huacaya alpacas - “like teddy bears,” Mrs. Clark said - which have fluffy fleece. They show their alpacas and enter their fleeces in competitions across the country. A wall in the barn crammed with ribbons and banners tells of their success. They now have 19 alpacas, with five more due by early summer.

Mrs. Clark said their new life is happier. “It’s like the day is pleasant all the time. It’s like a natural meditation,” she said. “I didn’t give up a job I didn’t like. I loved it, but I love this even more.”

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