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Pat Alger: Alpaca aficionado, 4-H leader and fiber artist

Young Alex easily leads Diamond to their destination. Pat Alger has worked with 4-H kids for 25 years through her role as leader of the Timnath Goal Diggers 4-H Club.
Photo courtesy Pat Alger

The alpaca is a multi-purpose animal conveniently packaged in a luxurious, easy-keeping body. Plus, it’s really cute! Just ask Pat Alger.

The Timnath, Colo., woman didn’t grow up around the species. In fact, born in urban Denver, she grew up a citified girl in Broomfield. But then there was all that family land up north … .

Her Smiley ancestors had homesteaded the Larimer County property beginning in 1895. Great Grandpa Jack Smiley served as the ditch rider for Cache La Poudre Reservoir, the current owners of the Timnath Reservoir where Alger’s great-grandparents long ago raised cattle.

The family’s 80 acres were trimmed to 40 to make way for Timnath’s reservoir. When Alger’s great-uncle John Smily died, he passed down the land to niece Pat Blackburn, Alger’s mother. Now age 88, Blackburn resides in a Windsor senior community center but retains ownership of the property.

4-H AND ALPACAS

The Timnath Goal Diggers 4-H Club is one of the oldest in Larimer County. Alger had led the group for five years — with a member emphasis in Shooting Sports — when she, Mike, and her parents Pat and Virgil Blackburn began looking into raising alpacas.

Alger was curious about the 4-H aspect even though Larimer County at that time didn’t have such a project. But Weld County did, so one of their preliminary farm visits in 2000 took them to Diane and Tim Timmerman’s Eaton, Colo., ranch.

The Alger/Blackburn family liked what they saw and bought their first animal shortly thereafter. Alger contacted the Alpaca Breeders Association of Northern Colorado to determine if they in turn had ever contacted Larimer County Extension about adding a project for the animals. A representative replied that indeed they had but, at that point, no one had expressed any interest. Alger was undaunted.

She approached Gary Small, Larimer Livestock Extension Agent in 2000. She must have been pretty persuasive because Small then worked with the county’s fair board to approve the Llama/Alpaca Project, which officially opened for children’s participation beginning in 2001.

Alger clarified that participants need not own an alpaca to participate. In lieu of that and/or the need for acreage to house their project, 4-H members can instead work with an animal of their choice at Alger’s Timnath Alpaca Ranch.

If a family has land but chooses to not purchase an alpaca, their child can simply borrow, house and raise theirs (a minimum of two, as herd animals require companions), returning them after project completion.

Unlike most 4-H livestock, alpacas never go through the fair’s annual Livestock Auction. Rather, judging consists of competition in Showmanship, Obstacle Course, PR Class (public relations), and a creative Costume Class.

Through preparation for these county fair events, children learn responsibility by diligently working with their animal, feeding, cleaning pen/stall, shearing, administering shots and more.

Alger realistically makes sure that kids who come to her ranch work with multiple animals, not just the specific one they choose as a project.

“Animals can occasionally get sick or injured,” she said. So, 4-Hers should be able to handle an alternative.

According to Larimer County Extension, a total of 14 children were entered in the 2019 Llama/Alpaca Project. Algers’ own offspring are grown now but five grandchildren old enough for 4-H are becoming eager alpaca handlers!

Alpacas seem to be easy creatures for youngsters to manage. They are docile, low maintenance and, for the most part, don’t challenge fences. (Alger does admit, however, that some breeding males can soar over fences like gazelles to get to their ladies!)

Alger has had four to five herd sires over the 20 years she’s had alpacas. Her most recent breeding male was Smithwick (aka “Smitty”), who she’d raised from a cria (baby). Smitty sadly died in 2017 at just age 10.

The species’ lifespan can reach 20-plus but Smitty was one of those males who yielded to nature’s drive to reach any female he wanted. In an attempt to clear a fence, Smitty sadly sustained a fatal injury.

Alger still owns seven alpacas, although not currently breeding any. She remains active in Alpaca Breeders of the Rockies, for which she serves as performance co-ordinator for some shows. She continues as leader of the Timnath Goal Diggers 4-H Club.

WOVEN INTO HER LIFE

What does one do with seven alpacas besides breed and sell them? For Alger, its as obvious as the noses on their fluffy little faces: Fiber.

Alpacas have been domesticated for more than 6000 years. Although used by ancient peoples of the Andes for meat and as pack animals, tribal elites’ clothing originated as fiber shorn from the versatile species. But Inca royalty only were allowed to wear and use alpaca fiber items. Those royals were smart because:

• Alpaca fiber is 30 percent warmer than wool.

• Alpaca fibers are hollow, thus breathable for year-round wear.

• Alpaca fiber is hypoallergenic.

• Ninety-five percent of clipped fiber can be used for some application, regardless from where on the animal’s body it is sourced.

Dependent on a specific animal’s genetics, and by wool industry guidelines, fiber ranges from extra-fine to extra-coarse.

Finer fiber is preferred for shawls and other elegant garments, medium coarse for more versatile pieces such as gloves, hats and socks. Outdoor wear primarily comes from the coarsest fiber.

Alger weaves and felts items of all types. Mom Pat Blackburn knits and rake looms. Their combined product line includes vivid vests, multi-hued mittens, pretty headbands, and a peppy variety of felted hats. Some articles remain natural colors, of which Alger reported there are an amazing 22 hues. She hand-paints or pot dyes others.

One particular pair of rainbow-colored, silky soft mittens is sure to stand out if dropped in snow. “Here we are!” they brightly shout in kaleidoscopic tones.

Alger advised how to clean Alpaca fiber items: Simply soak in tepid water and a mild liquid soap for about 20 minutes, squeeze out excess water, and lay the article flat to dry.

Avid crafter Alger markets some of her and her mom’s fascinating creations at CF&G Public Market & Coffee House, which is housed in downtown Timanth’s historic Colorado Feed & Grain building.

Built in 1920 and completely restored several years ago after a devastating fire, the wooden-sided rich brown structure now houses the market/coffee house. Its second-floor event space is easily accessed by an elevator installed during renovations. The Timnath Farmers’ Market, held outdoors at the Public Market the first Sunday of each month May through October, offers shoppers an additional unique blend of hand-crafted creations, food products, a few antiques, and ever-changing activities for everyone. Alger also eagerly displays fiber art at these exciting seasonal bazaars and notes that she and Blackburn continuously create fresh inventory for both indoor and outdoor spots.

Pat Alger can be reached via Facebook at Timnath Alpaca Ranch or at Timnath Goal Diggers 4-H Club. Her email is pata@timnathalpaca.com and phone is (970) 567-4194. ❖

— Metzger is a freelance writer from Fort Collins, Colo. She can be reached at ponytime47@gmail.com.


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