Ad Astra Alpacas brings unexpected joy to BC

Story by Hayley Morrical, Writer

Unlike most businesses that start out with a business plan, patent or a new piece of technology, Bob and Claudia Hey’s business, Ad Astra Alpacas, came unexpectedly from the empty family dairy farm and an unwanted farm magazine.

After the death of Claudia’s parents, she moved her family into the farm where she grew up, directly south of Baldwin City.

“When my parents died, my brother and I didn’t want to get rid of the farm. After awhile, a week or two, I couldn’t stand not having anything to look at out in the pastures,” Claudia said. “So I looked and I knew I didn’t want to milk cows again. I knew I didn’t want anything I would get attached to and then send it off to be slaughtered. So I thought ‘What could I do?’ My husband, Bob, brought home a farm magazine and I was getting ready to throw it away, but I saw a picture of alpacas.”

The article in the magazine piqued her interest enough that she then spent a year researching the native South American animals and afterward began visiting alpaca farms.

April 25, 2005, is a date Claudia remembers well. It was the day her first three alpacas arrived on the farm. Knowing what she knows now, Claudia says she was ignorant at the time.

“I was out there dancing up and down, and the biggest trailer I’d ever seen pulled into the driveway. He jumped out of the trailer and said, ‘You got your halters?’ I didn’t know I would need those! So he had to carry them into my pasture,” Claudia said.

Just over 10 years later, Claudia and Bob have a herd of 51 Huacaya alpacas and offer alpaca stud services, as well as an on-site shop selling socks, gloves, hats, sweaters, blankets, rugs, yarn and more alpaca fiber-based products. All products in the shop are made from the fiber collected from Ad Astra Alpacas.

The quality of alpaca fiber is measured in microns, 1/25,000 of an inch. The smaller the micron, the softer the fiber.

“The difference between alpaca fiber and sheep wool is that alpaca fiber does not have any lanolin in it,” she said. “If you would take a handful of sheep wool and a handful of alpaca fiber, after five minutes with the sheep’s wool your hands will be greasy.”

She added, “A good alpaca will maintain its fiber fineness as it matures. We have through selective breeding got some alpacas that are really excellent. I would say the whole herd averages a 22 micron.”

However, the most rewarding part of the business for Claudia is the “little moments” she has with visitors and customers. Ad Astra Alpacas has shipped products to loyal customers across the globe.

The alpacas are also frequently brought into Baldwin City to visit the students participating in the Baldwin City Library Summer Reading Program and the residents at local nursing homes. Other visitors include students from Baldwin Primary Center or birthday parties.

Although the shop is only open between October and February, Claudia invites anyone who is interested in learning more about alpacas, visiting the farm or purchasing their first pair of alpaca socks to contact Ad Astra Alpacas through their Facebook page or at (785) 594-6767.