- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 8, 2009

Sue and Don Rosche have been home-schooling their two children, Katy, 12, and Ben, 10, since kindergarten, while running a thriving alpaca farm minutes from the nation’s capital city.

Pax River Alpacas, home to 32 alpacas, takes its name from the historic Patuxent River that abuts the 5-acre farm in Upper Marlboro.

“Alpacas come from the Andes Mountain areas of South America, so they love the cold,” explained Sue in a recent interview. “They eat grass and grain, and produce the softest and warmest wool — too warm, in fact, if you knit something bulky from it.”

The family chose alpacas because they are so pretty, soft and gentle. Their children were toddlers at the time, “so these were the ideal animal,” Sue said. Being raised side by side with the alpacas, Katy and Ben have learned animal husbandry, marketing, business skills and textile arts in addition to the academic subjects typical for their age group.

“Katy wants to be a vet,” Sue explained. “She’ll spend the day with one Gaithersburg vet who lets her watch surgeries and takes her on rounds. Our own vet explains every procedure to her, and lets her use the instruments and examine the animal. A veterinary technician who conducts the ultrasound procedures on the pregnant females shows her how to perform the procedures, too.

“When a female is giving birth, we stop everything to go out and assist. We make sure the labor is going well, and that the placenta is delivered afterwards. Katy helps make sure the baby alpaca — called a ‘cria’ — nurses from the mother right after birth, so they get the immunities they need from the colostrum.”

The kids also help check the animals’ feces for worms and parasites using a microscope and centrifuge, and Katy attends educational seminars at various alpaca shows. She also trains the animals and shows them, competing against other young trainers, and has won championships for her skills in getting the gentle animals to walk over teeter-totters, maneuver backward, jump or handle stressful challenges.

Young Ben’s ambitions are a career in the Marines, and he loves hunting, especially ridding the farm of the pesky mouse population.

“He loves going into the woods, seeing animals, jumping on the trampoline, and in summer, swimming in the pool.

Both kids prefer being outdoors,” Sue said. “Television and video games are hardly ever used.

“We might watch Animal Planet or some Christian movies — no cussing or violence — but mostly the kids like to be outdoors, playing baseball with their teams, or for Katy, horseback riding.”

The Rosches travel quite a bit, when they can get a qualified friend to care for the farm. The family has studied the natural wonders of Canada, Montana, California, Washington, Oregon, Kentucky, South Carolina, Utah and Georgia. This, and naming their herd after various world capital cities, makes geography come alive for the family.

The family’s business includes not only breeding and selling alpacas themselves, but shearing the wool, having it spun into beautiful soft yarns, and selling the skeins. On the package of each skein of yarn is a photo of the animal that produced the wool, and buyers can look up “their” animal on the “Paca Virtual Barn” to see photos and a personality profile, humorous stories or their family status.

Sue Rosche has written a beautifully illustrated hardcover children’s book, “The Blue-Ribbon Alpaca,” which can be purchased on the Web site, as can the gorgeous yarns or the animals themselves. Check the Web site (www.paxriveralpacas.com) to see the beautiful animals and their home-schooling caretakers, or you can call to request a visit to meet them all in person.

Kate Tsubata, a home-schooling mother of three, is a freelance writer who lives in Maryland.

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