Business: Skyeview Farm
By Julie Tallman
Photos by Paul Howe

Skyeview looks like your every day New Hampshire farm. A white farmhouse sits in front of a three large, gray barns framed by mountains. Chickens cluck and peck at the ground while a rooster watches. Sturdy fences run along grassy, rolling fields where a herd of 115 alpacas sunbath, play and graze.

At first, the alpacas look out of place on the traditional farm. Their long necks and legs are unfamiliar and foreign, but their soft, fluffy coats are welcoming. The alpaca’s faces are sharply defined, but friendly. A little girl visiting the farm exclaims, “They smiled at me!” as two of the animals make their way toward her. Large, kind eyes turn visitors into enchanted admirers.

This is just a typical day at Skyeview Alpacas on Wilmot Center Road in Elkins. Sue and Jim King, owners of Skyeview Alpacas, have dedicated their lives to breeding high quality alpacas and educating people about these heartwarming animals. This working farm offers visiting hours and a shop filled with alpaca products such as sweaters, socks, hats and scarves.

Enchanted by the Unusual
In the early 1990s, the Kings became enchanted by the alpaca — a cousin of the llama — when they visited one on a farm in New Jersey. The couple had been planning a change. Jim was easing into retirement and looking for a way to keep himself busy. Sue, who used to raise and show Skye Terriers, was ready to make a lifelong dream come true.

“I always wanted a farm. I turned 50 and knew if I didn’t do it now I would never do it,” she says. Sue wanted to populate her farm with fiber animals so she could indulge in her passions, spinning and knitting.

The Kings found their dream farm in Elkins. It required some renovations and they slowly cared for it while Jim continued to work in Massachusetts. In 1992, the couple moved to Elkins. Jim began phasing into retirement with a flexible job at New London Trust as a trust officer, and Sue busied herself with the well being of New Hampshire’s first alpaca herd.

Over the past 13 years, Skyeview's herd of alpacas has “gradually expanded beyond our expectations,” says Jim. “We had previously raised and showed Skye Terriers, so we had some experience with animals, but not with livestock.”

As the Kings grew beyond their original plan of 30 alpacas, Jim and Sue learned to manage all aspects of the farm from breeding to veterinarian care. They say that their most difficult hurdle was — and still is — finding the time to get everything done.

About the Animal
As Skyeview Alpacas grew, so did the popularity of alpacas in the United States. Alpacas are South American animals that have been domesticated for 4,000 years. They are agile and capable of living in the mountains of Chile and Peru, where they are bred for their fiber. The fleece of an alpaca can be one of 21 colors and it is softer than that of a sheep.

Alpacas were first introduced to the United States in 1984. The New England Alpaca Owners and Breeders Association (NEAOBA) believes that alpacas are popular in the United States and New Hampshire — home to about 1,000 alpacas — because they are easy to care for. A herd of six alpacas require as little as one acre of land for grazing. “In their natural environment, feed was terrible, and alpacas walked miles to get food,” says Sue. “Their digestive systems are very efficient so they do not require much food. Seven alpacas eat one bale of hay a day, so the cost is minimal.”

The animals not only require little food and land — they are environmentally friendly because of their one set of bottom grazing teeth, which leave the roots of the grass intact, and their soft-padded feet. Their feet do not damage land the way cloven-hoofed animals do; this fact can be attested by the beauty of Skyeview Alpacas. The grassy fields are not muddy, eroded or clawed by hooves — the only evidence of animals in the fields are a few well-worn, narrow paths leading to and from the barn.

The daily care of the animals is easy as well. Jim and Sue are usually out of the house and to the barn at 7:30 each morning. “I observe what ever I can around the farm,” Sue explains. “I look at dung piles for signs of illness, and make sure all 115 alpacas are with me.”

The couple feeds the animals grain and hay, and clean up droppings from the barns and fields. Sue and Jim also have daily projects such as breeding adult alpacas, socializing the babies or teaching everyone older than 6 months to lead on a halter. Sue stresses the fact that 115 animals is a lot of work, but caring for 7 or 10 animals is much more manageable and would not take nearly as long.

The Business of Breeding
The Kings specialize in animals that produce high quality fleece. They shear the coats of their alpacas in the spring, usually May, and sell the fleece raw to hand spinners or mill it into yarn. (Sue spins and knits fleece into soft, comfortable products, such as sweaters, socks, hats and scarves.) Some of the highest quality fleece shorn from their alpacas is saved and brought to alpaca shows.

Alpaca shows provide Sue and Jim with the opportunity to travel and meet people who share a common passion. With their alpacas in tow, the couple travels throughout the United States to Pennsylvania and as far as New Mexico. Show attendance is important to Skyeview Alpacas as Sue and Jim are creating quality breeding lines. Alpacas are judged for their color and fiber quality and conformation, and show ribbons prove that an alpaca is a high quality animal.

Sue and Jim are attached to each alpaca they raise. The couple takes great care to call each of their 115 alpacas by name. Each year they pick a theme to help in the naming of their cria; last year’s theme was famous actors, one bright white cria was named after Marilyn Monroe. This year’s theme is ice cream flavors; the first cria born in March was named French Vanilla. “The most exciting part is birthing the cria and watching it grow,” Jim says as he rubs Bloomers’ fluffy, brown neck as she rests her head on his shoulder.

The breeding of the alpacas supports Skyeview Alpacas and its founders. Sue warns that alpacas are not a “get rich quick” business, but the Kings have been able to support the farm. Alpaca enthusiasts buy Jim and Sue’s animals and pay stud fees to breed their own female alpacas with Skyeview males. Male alpacas not used for breeding are sold as companion animals. Last fall three of these male alpacas were donated to the University of Massachusetts to begin their own research herd for their agriculture school.

Breeding may support the farm, but Jim and Sue love to share this wonderful animal with many people. Throughout the summer, the Kings attend charitable events such as New London Hospital Days and works with disadvantaged children and Alzheimer patients. Be warned: Simply viewing these magnificent animals will captivate you and touching their soft, silky fleece will tempt you to never let go.

“The alpacas are not just for me to enjoy. I am always ready to share them with others,” Sue says. “To see people smile when after they visit with the animals brings me great happiness.”
Reproduction of material from any pages without written permission is strictly prohibited.
All content © 2018 Kearsarge Magazine
Kearsarge Magazine, PO Box 1482, Grantham, NH 03753 | Phone: (603) 863-7048 |