While most livestock owners in mid-Missouri are raising cattle, hogs and horses, one Auxvasse woman is tending to a more exotic furry herd.
Ann Mayes is proud owner of Alpacas d'Auxvasse, Callaway County's premier alpaca farm and yarn producer.
Mayes' alpaca fibers are gaining renown among fiber shops in mid-Missouri, and she has been invited for the third year to showcase her woven alpaca yarn scarves, hats and other products in this year's Best of Missouri Market, an annual display of rural vendors and producers in the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis.
Alpacas d'Auxvasse plays a stronger roll in the local market, as well. She buys fiber from other area alpaca and sheep farmers to supplement her own supply, partners with local knitters and weavers to help produce finished products and utilizes local mills to card roving and spin yarn. She even puts her alpaca's "beans" to good use, donating them to area gardeners and farms for fertilizer.
Originally of Florissant, a suburb of St. Louis, Mayes grew up near cities but dreamt of owning a farm.
"20 years ago, I took a vacation to Washington state, met an alpaca and said "I've got to have one,'" she said. "I looked at the price and figured I'd never have them, but about nine years ago my youngest son got married and everyone was out of the house, and I said "if I'm ever going to do it, I'll do it.' I put the house up for sale and bought a farm."
Mayes first had only three alpacas to start her farm; her herd soon grew to near 40 animals - she currently keeps about 35. Hailing from South America, alpacas are smaller and more docile than their llama cousins, and with a softer, more valuable wool.
Though she considers them her "babies" and knows each one by name, Mayes, a computer technician, soon needed to find a way to make the animals pay for their keep.
"I got into this strictly for the animals, and then after the first sheering I said "oh my gosh, what do I do with all this fiber?' I went on another mission, which was a whole different way of life to learn what to do with the fiber."