Made in Eastern Iowa: Finding Fiber From Alpaca

Published: May. 15, 2017 at 7:23 AM CDT
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Vicky Goble finds herself surrounded by 28 alpaca and three llamas. The colors are varied but all of the "boys", as Vicky calls them respond to her voice and her ever-present feeding bag.

"C'mon, boys! C'mon guys! Here, buddy."

Quite the transition for the former emergency room nurse of 17 years who found something new.

"Up until about eleven years ago, I was full-time nursing," said Goble. "I just hit that wall they walk about where it's time to do something different. While I was trying out a couple of different nursing departments, I was also knitting. At the same time, I found alpacas."

As the herd grew, so did her decision to turn a love of the alpaca into something more.

"They were an animal that I could keep for a lifetime," said Goble. "When I started getting up around 12 or 13 animals, it was time to sell something because, otherwise, there was no purpose in producing fiber. That's when I took it from a general enjoyment into a business."

Goble's business is Fiber Heart, with a retail store on Main Street in the heart of Dysart, along with a smaller shop at the farm, north of Vinton.

"Alpacas are relatively new to Iowa," said Goble. "We know sheep but we, generally, don't like to buy sheep fiber. You get a lot of volume of product but not a lot of quality. (People) are almost afraid of (alpaca) because it's a luxury fiber."

She added that much of her work is educating people about alpaca, its fiber and some of the perceptions about them.

"They're spitting animals but that's their only defense mechanism," said Goble. "They're relatively harmless. They only have bottom teeth. They don't have top teeth so they can't bite you. They only have soft pads on their feet because they're originally a mountain animal. My 'boys' are so spoiled that they only spit if there's grain involved or they get a treat."

Goble said that her alpaca are considered 'throw-off animals', in that they're not used for genetics. The animals that come to her farm stay on it and, for this spring, she just finished what she called her harvest season.

"Once a year, I shear, and that's my harvest. It takes them a full year to regrow their fiber. It'll grow anywhere from three to four inches."