Thursday, November 18, 2010

"How Did You Get Started in Alpacas?"

I have given Apollo the Mascot Spot for this week in his honor.  Just Monday, we found out that he, too, has osteosarcoma, bone cancer, in the same leg as his littermate, Cheetah.  With truly heavy hearts, we said goodbye to this beautiful, gentle dog and he returned to the farm where he spent most of his life to spend the remainder of his days with the people and dogs he knows best.

Wow, have we had a run of bad luck with our Pyrs!  And now we have no guard dog with our herd going into the winter months.  I am working on it, though.

To move onto less depressing subjects, I thought I would write a post dealing with a question we get from almost everyone we meet once they find out we raise alpacas.  There are actually 2 questions (well 3 if you count  "can you eat them?"): the first is "How did you get started with alpacas?"  the second is "what do you do with them?"  which I think I have been covering in general with this blog.

So today, I will address Question #1.  It is a rather long story, and I will try to make it interesting.

Sam and I have been married almost 25 years (I warned you   L O N G).  When we were first married, we both worked in the restaurant business, he in management and me as a server, trainer, superviser.  My job allowed me to work and yet be home most of the time with our kids and Sam and I usually worked opposite shifts so one of us was usually home and we did not need day care.

Long story short, Sam was transferred to the Indianapolis area in 1990.  In 1991, we built a house on 6 acres of flat cornfield so I could realize my lifelong dream of horse ownership.  We always hoped to someday move back to Ohio, to the county where Sam grew up, but the job situation there was difficult to say the least and the area was economically depressed.  We hoped that we could make the move once our 2 boys graduated from high school.  In the meantime, things changed as they usually do and Sam changed companies and became a general manager for a well-known chain restaurant.  I quit the restaurant business and became a travel agent.

Sam is a very good manager and his restaurant was very profitable, but he was never a good  "corporate" guy.  He was promised a promotion twice to district manager, and both times, passed over at the last minute for the position, due to corporate politics.  He became dissatisfied and frustrated and we started to re-think our future plans.  Sam's mom had started a Real Estate company here in Monroe county in 1981, and she was thinking of retiring.  It was not a big business, but it had a good reputation and we could make it grow with both of us working at it.  

Then, suddenly in 1996, my father died of a heart attack at the age of 62.  He was 3 years short of retirement, which he had been looking forward to as he had been working for several years in a job that was less than satisfying.  Suddenly, we looked at life with new eyes.  Live for today took on a new meaning and spending time making money for someone else instead of doing what we enjoyed began to seem crazy.

We began to put the wheels in motion to sell our house, quit our jobs and move back to Ohio and take over Mary's Real Estate company.  This was in the fall of '96.  Sam began to commute to Ohio on his days off where he stayed with my mom in the Cincinnati area and took the classes he needed for his Ohio Real Estate license.  This was time consuming and he had to work the classes in around his job, but it was something he wanted to do before we sold our house and moved so he could jump right into the Real Estate business and eventually get his broker's license.

In the spring of '97, we put our house on the market.  We figured it would sell quickly as it was almost 6 acres with a newer house and barn only about 20 minutes north of Indianapolis.  However, it did not sell as we had anticipated and the holidays found us still waiting for a buyer.

Then, I came home from work one evening a couple days after the first of the year to find Sam already home and having a drink in the kitchen.  I knew right away something was wrong.  Some months before his bosses had found out our house was on the market and when they asked him what his plans were,  Sam was honest (as always) and told them we planned to move back to Ohio.  These wonderful people waited until the holidays were past (the busiest time of year in the restaurant business) and then they had come in and let Sam go.  Never mind that he had the highest profits in the company among other things.  Fortunately, they did give him a decent severance package.

So, now we were really in need of selling our house.   Sam basically moved in with his parents in Ohio and began working the Real Estate and driving the 5 hours back to Indiana once a week for 2 days at home to take care of things there.  I went back to the restaurant I had worked at for 7 years and they were more than happy to have me come back and work 3 or 4 shifts a week after my 8 to 5 day job.  Our kids were by now in 9th and 5th grades, so could stay by themselves in the evening.   This way we managed to keep our heads above water until May 1998 when our house finally sold and we packed up and moved to an old farm house on 67 acres in Monroe county.
"Loadin' up the truck and movin' to Ohio!"
We moved from a newer home with 3 bathrooms into a 100+ year old house with 1 bathroom (claw foot tub, no shower!).   My boys were just over the moon with joy, as you can imagine!  Heavy sarcasm.
Our farm shortly after purchase in 1998

Now, here we were, back in the Appalachian foothills with our 2 boys, our 2 horses, our 2 dogs and no real income!  If you know Real Estate, you know that many people simply do not make it in the business due to working on a commission basis and facing stiff competition.  Here, life is generally simpler and there is no Multiple Listing Service and there were only 2 other small Real Estate companies in the county.  Prices are low.  Most acreage is sold for recreational use or for timber instead of actual farming since it is so hilly and downright dangerous to try to use a tractor on.  As soon as I could, I went to stay with my mom, now in the Dayton area, and I took my licensing classes all at one time over a 3 week period so I could get my license and go to work as well.  Sam's mom, Mary was the broker and would stay on as long as we needed her until Sam could get his broker's license in about 2 years.  Even then, she keeps her license and helps us out when we are away.

We soon discovered that the joys of self-employment were obviously frowned upon by the government and in their desire to make everyone as unhappy as possible, they now wanted very large chunks of our hard-earned income.  Now, we had a 67 acre farm with 2 horses on it.  Said farm needed to be maintained and reclaimed from years of neglect, which takes money and expensive equipment.  IF we could turn our farm into a working farm, we could take advantage of some tax write-offs!  But, what could we do to accomplish that?

Here is where I made my now famous statement to Sam that we could raise anything he wanted as long as we did not have to kill it to make money.  As a guy who had grown up on a farm where his family had a meat-packing plant, I am sure Sam had no idea where to go from there!

Then one day my mother read an article about alpacas in USA Today.  She called us and said "hey, I think this might be just what you are looking for".

And that is basically HOW we got started.  The process of actually becoming alpaca owners is another long story that I will go into in another post.  Stayed Tuned, as they say!

We finally got some much needed rain this week, although not as much as we really need.  As I told someone, I think November finally found us.  It's grey and cold and dreary outside.  

Next week is Thanksgiving, so I will probably be late on my post.  We go to my mom's in Dayton for Thanksgiving and it is the only holiday where my entire family is together.  For Christmas, we all go to in-laws, etc.  So I love Thanksgiving.  It is by far my favorite holiday.

Thanksgiving is followed by Ohio's gun season for deer.  Being in a National Forest, this means the population of our county swells to about two or three times the numbers during the rest of the year.  The testosterone is so think you can almost smell it!  

Happy Thanksgiving all!

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