South American Animals Thriving in Ohio

by Holly Wuebker

For Celina, Ohio residents Norm and Mary Zahn, establishing Coldwater Creek Alpaca Farm wasn’t something that just began on a whim. It took many years of research, job-shadowing and learning the many tools of the trade before adventuring out on their own.

This adventure began more than a thousand miles away in the Rocky Mountain state. Norm and Mary resided in Colorado with their growing children for about 14 years before moving back to their home state of Ohio.

While in Colorado, the Zahns tried out a variety of jobs, even operating a bed and breakfast prior to moving back to Ohio. Out West, they had a friend who raised llamas and was one of the first to “import them to the United States” from their habitat in South America.

This man was not only a friend, but he was also a mentor who began teaching Norm and Mary how to raise and care for alpacas. This is where their love of the South American animal began to grow.

Their love for alpacas flourished further as the couple continued their research on raising these exquisite and exotic creatures. When Norm and Mary moved back to a 10-acre plat in Ohio, they started out small, gradually began building Coldwater Creek Alpaca Farm “from the ground up.”

Since the Zahns had nowhere to house animals upon their return to the Midwest, they arranged to board their first Suri alpaca with a friend in Salamonia, Indiana. Norm and Mary boarded their animals here for two years while they worked to make their farm suitable.

They continued to travel, as well, visiting other alpaca farms and learning more about the alpacas and their care. The Zahns were curious about the differences between two distinct breeds of alpacas—Huacaya and Suri. The Huacaya alpacas are more common, which is one of the reasons the couple decided to raise Suri alpacas at Coldwater Creek Alpaca Farm.

There were many benefits to working with alpacas—and something that just “drew them to it, too.” Norm and Mary were looking for work that wasn’t hard but could help them earn a living and provide for their retirement.

The Zahns found they enjoyed working with alpacas and watching the animals on the pasture. “What one horse eats in a day is equivalent to what seven alpacas eat, since they are native to the mountains and used to not eating as much to sustain themselves,” say Norm and Mary. The Zahns still rotate pastures to allow the vegetation time to grow, but they don’t need to worry that the alpacas will consume an entire field the way horses do, or beat up the barns like steers do.

Interestingly, the alpacas share a common manure pile, which makes clean-up extremely quick and simple. The manure can be used as fertilizer for gardens, ground up for flower bed mulch, and more. Alpacas don’t pass the seeds of cantankerous weeds through their manure.

Coldwater Creek Alpaca Farm’s very first cria, or baby alpaca, was Haiyaha—YaYa, for short—which means “beautiful lake.” Norm and Mary named her for the lake located in Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park.

These days, the Zahns bring YaYa to visit area nursing homes. YaYa has also attended many shows and is one of the near-and-dear members of Norm and Mary’s family. The animals are “calming to be around,” the couple explain, and that’s why so many people enjoy them.

With 14 males and 10 females, Norm and Mary do travel with their animals quite a bit for area shows, picnics, fairs and meetings. They go to many local craft bizarres, fiber shows, events, picnics and more. From Heritage Days in Greenville to the Maria Stein Countryfest and the Mercer County Fair, the couple enjoys bringing their Suri alpacas for others to appreciate, too.

As with many other animals, alpaca competitions seem to be everywhere, including those nearby in Columbus, Akron, Fort Wayne, and Indianapolis. The Zahns have traveled to Nebraska, Missouri, and Colorado, to name a few, where their Suri alpacas have been judged, not only for sport but to see how they compare from generation to generation, too.

Norm and Mary say they show their animals because they want to know their fiber and breeding are “good quality,” and they also participate “just to learn.” When traveling, the Zahns not only compete, but also attend seminars to continue expanding their knowledge of the animals they love.

Alpacas are judged mostly by their “fiber content, but also by body confirmation and fineness of their fiber.” Their locks, or the length of fiber they have, can be determined when they are classified, as well as its luster and whether it is “consistent throughout the body.”

Each alpaca produces fiber that is unique in color and length, but typically, they grow about six to eight pounds of fiber per year. When the animals are sheared, the clippings can be used to create luxurious products.

An alpaca’s fiber is “classified into three different sections,” explain Norm and Mary. “The main body part, the chest and neck, and then the legs.” Each section is used for creating different products.

Some alpaca owners spin the fiber into yarn to use in their own crafts. But, Norm and Mary send their fleeces to the New England Alpaca Fiber Pool (NEAFP) co-op each year in return for alpaca fiber products to sell in their small store.

The alpaca fiber is “30-percent warmer than wool and soft like cashmere,” they say. And, those with wool allergies are often able to wear alpaca fiber because it is lanolin-free.

The softness of alpaca fiber, though, is what really draws people to the product. The shop at Coldwater Creek Alpaca Farm sells a variety of hats, gloves, blankets, purses, teddy bears and more.

The Coldwater Creek product packaging is beautiful—and informative. The Zahns include a picture of the appropriate alpaca on the packaging so shoppers can see the source of the fiber for themselves.

Norm and Mary enjoy “selling the products at the shows and showing what they can produce” or seeing the look people get on their face when they try on a pair of gloves for the first time. Some of the most popular Coldwater Creek Alpaca Farm items are the fiber teddy bears and chickens—people “just melt with them” as they enjoy the soft feel.

The Zahns now specialize in breeding stock animals. Several alpacas at Coldwater Creek are available for purchase. Some of the males are also offered for stud purposes.

Coldwater Creek Alpaca Farm welcomes scheduled visits for classes, tours and groups to their farm to see the animals and learn about them.

Coldwater Creek Alpaca Farm
5254 Younger Road
Celina, OH 45822
(419) 678-8621

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