Alpaca Farm to Yarn
Mike McDermott is the hardest working person I know. It’s a good thing he’s passionate about what he does, because he works 16-hour days, 6-7 days a week and hasn’t had a vacation in 15 years.
McDermott and his wife, Cindy, are the owners of SunCrest Orchard Alpacas and Fiber Works on East Orchard Mesa. The 10-acre ranch has been in his family for 43 years.
“We moved here when I was 13. My dad said, ‘Now you have to run the farm for me,’ because he worked a full-time job,” says McDermott. “I built our barn by myself at 15.”
Raising pigs, sheep, horses, and milk cows paid for his college degree. Following an 11-year career in kinesiology therapy, in 2003 McDermott bought the farm from his mother, who still lives there with the family.
“I’m the oldest of seven, and they all left the farm as soon as they could,” says McDermott. “We came back because we wanted our two sons to learn accountability and commitment through taking care of animals.”
With 8 acres of the farm in peaches, it was time to add animals. Deciding what to raise was easy. “Cindy is allergic to every animal but alpacas, because they have no lanolin and are hypoallergenic,” says McDermott. “Alpaca fiber has the properties of cashmere and the durability of wool. It is eight times warmer than wool at half the weight.” Alpacas average 105-185 pounds and produce 5-10 pounds of fiber per annual spring shearing.
“This has been a trial-by-fire endeavor. We’ve had some heartache,” says McDermott. “Cindy’s knee-deep with me when she’s not working as a nurse.”
Under the watchful eyes of two Italian-bred Maremma livestock guardian dogs, McDermott acts as breeder, caretaker, veterinarian, shearer, and birthing assistant to 40-50 gentle, doe-eyed alpacas. His focus has always been to produce animals of high fiber fineness, consistency, and volume.
McDermott’s mill processes 5,000 pounds of fiber each year from his own farm, plus 300 others around the country and one in Japan. Bringing finished yarn to a cone or skein is a labor-intensive process that involves skirting (separating out the unwanted non-fiber matter), washing, drying, picking, and several other steps.
McDermott’s latest addition to the mix is hat-knitting equipment. “We live in a throw-away world,” says McDermott. “You can get a $3 hat from China, but I want to educate and change people’s mindset about the value of products such as alpaca-made goods. I am developing an industry of a rare fiber. My ultimate dream is to be the largest natural fiber mill in the United States.”
For now, an on-site retail store stocks alpaca yarn, hats, gloves, socks, wraps, and more. The McDermotts also offer guided animal and mill tours, trekking tours through the orchard, and fiber classes.
The time commitment is McDermott’s biggest challenge, but his greatest joy is sharing his passion and educating others, watching them light up with curiosity and inspiration.
SunCrest Orchard Alpacas 3608 E-¼ Road, Palisade 970.464.4862 suncrestorchardalpacas.net