Once a month we will feature an interview with an interesting Alpaca Farmgirl. Bookmark this site to read about a variety of inspirational women in the alpaca industry.
This month our interview is with alpaca breeder Cindy Lavan who lives in Bowdoin, Maine. Cindy and her husband, Tim, have been raising alpacas for 15 years. They have two sons who have grown up with their alpacas. As a Southern girl, I am in awe of a woman so tough that she could raise livestock in Maine! Cindy and her family do almost all the farm work. In this interview we will learn what it’s like to care for alpacas through Maine winters, how she and Tim have invested for their sons’ financial futures through alpacas, her thoughts on how the economy will affect the alpaca industry, the large role alpaca fiber plays on their farm, and more!
Q. Whose idea was it to raise alpacas, you or Tim? And how did you hear about them?
A. It was actually Tim’s idea initially. He was reading an article in the USA Today newspaper during lunch and brought home the article. I was taking graduate classes and working at a local university. I was consumed with finals and work so he contacted AOBA (the Alpaca Owners and Breeders Association) to learn more. Remember this was before the Internet so we had to talk to people over the phone. We never really saw the alpacas themselves in person for quite some time. This was while we were working in Washington, D.C. and lived on Capitol Hill. Not really the perfect habitat for these lovely creatures. While D.C. is a great place to live, it’s not where we wanted to raise a family, let alone run a farm and business.
Q. A few years ago when my twins were young and I was struggling, I asked you, “How do I do all the farm chores, watch the kids, and keep the house all at the same time?” You told me to “Forget the house.” That advice has saved my sanity many days. Any other shortcuts or advice on “the daily stuff” that you can share with us?
A. lot of ladies that have alpacas are ladies with drive, a strong work ethic, a high level of motivation and desire. With these wonderful traits in us, we don’t always take criticism well or have the desire to delegate chores or tasks. It’s just the old, “Oh let me do it” attitude. It’s taken a lot for me to delegate tasks and to learn how to say “No” when asked to do things I truly don’t have the time for or should be taking on. When we fill our plates and can’t do a good job at a task, maybe we shouldn’t have taken on the task in the first place. Between the kids’ school, sports schedules, farm chores, alpaca shows and fairs, house cleaning and the grocery store, little time is left to enjoy the things we want to enjoy. I’ve found delegating and limited the number of other commitments helps made it less stressful and more enjoyable to do those tasks I have and want to do. It’s nice to cross things off the list before writing more items on the list. I am also a nicer person to be around, according to my husband now that I have learned to delegate and say “No.”
Q. Can you give us an example of something that you have said “no” to, and something that you have delegated?
A. After helping to develop our local state alpaca association, I worked on fundraising in the form of an online auction. I opted out the next time around to concentrate more on other things for the farm. Also, after developing and helping to run the New England Coastal Classic Alpaca Show here in Maine for the past 6 years, I stepped down and only answered questions they had this time around. We are now holding our own farm pen sale event the weekend before the show. I needed to focus on developing that. The first year was a huge success with 5 alpacas sold to date for a one day sales event and web presence. Delegated tasks may actually be paid tasks such as yarn processing, spinning, etc. In order to save time, it’s more cost effective to have some of the processing done off the farm versus me doing it all like I used to do.
Q. You have bred some incredible alpacas over the years. Is there one cria that stands out in your mind as one that you knew was really special or that was a favorite?
A. Well that’s a hard one as we are proud of every alpaca in their own way. Every time a new owner is pleased with their newly acquired Chase Tavern Farm alpaca, that’s rewarding as well. If I were to pick one – it would be a toss-up between three. Evander, GreyBeard and Altiplano Gold. The later was an import so obviously not a cria on the farm. However, he had a huge impact on taking our breeding program to a new level. Evander was special not only as a cria with his Dorset sheep head and of course the color marking of GreyBeard were a very unique surprise. We actually had named him something else originally, but after a few days, Tim asked to change his name to GreyBeard and it stuck perfectly.
[Cindy's husband, Tim Lavan, is an AOBA Alpaca Judge in the AOBA Show System. Visit his site "Ask the Judge" ]
Q. How has Tim becoming a judge changed your farm and/or your breeding program?
A. I wouldn’t say it’s changed our farm or breeding program, but it has added some aspects – both positive and negative to our lives. Positive in that it has provided our farm and breeding program with a broader knowledge of bloodlines and quality out there in the world today. The negative comes in with his traveling. It’s hard to run the farm, do chores and have time for ‘extras’ on the weekends sometimes. The boys and I manage it but it’s nice to have Dad around. In fact, those times when he is around, we don’t know what to do with him as we are in our own routine.
Q. I know that you started your suri alpaca herd for your son. Many parents are trying to find ways to plan for their children’s financial future. Tell us about what you did, and do you have any advice for parents who are thinking about investing in alpacas for their children?
A. Both of my sons are co-owners and operators of the suri side of our farm. That is changing however. After 15 years of focusing primarily on breeding Championship winning huacayas, we are downsizing that side of our operation and developing a strong colored suri program. We’ll keep a handful of huacaya females and 2 breeding males and develop the suri side with the boys. Initially, we ‘gave’ them each a huacaya and their herd in a herd grew from there. We keep it simple and have learned to grow and develop it along the way. When they would sell an alpaca, we reinvested to grow the herd. As Charlie got older, he became more interested in breeding suris. We went with it and actually, now are taking that one step further.Advice..don’t dictate but work together. It’s amazing how much these kids pick up by listening to our breeding conversations and how much they can learn on their own. We have been amazed at time with their comments on fleece and who should breed to who and for what reasons. Most they come up with are valid and true.
Q. You have to be super tough to make it through the Maine winters, but to do it AND care for over 100 alpacas during it is amazing. You are an inspiration to alpacafarmgirls everywhere. How do you do it? And how do you keep yourself going when it gets really hard?
A. Winters in Maine can be long and hard. Luckily we were able to steal timeoff the farm here and there and travel south the past few winters. [Trips to Florida] This year will be different. It’s not so much that’s its cold but the days are shorter in daylight because we are further east. That’s what hurts the most. Lack of sunlight. I don’t know how they do it up north further. How do I keep myself from going crazy when it gets hard? Knit or spin and watch our two Corgi’s be Corgi’s!
Read Part II of AFG’s interview with Cindy in which we will hear more details about those Maine winters and get Cindy’s thoughts on how the alpaca market will be affected by the economy. We’ll also see Cindy’s artistic side and get some tips for alpaca breeders who are trying to get into the fiber side of their business.
Please visit Cindy at Chase Tavern Farm Alpacas.