Issue: April, 2006
Author: Mary Angell
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What do practicing law and raising alpacas have in common?
What do practicing law and raising alpacas have in common? Absolutely nothing. And for Cheyenne attorney Lynn Boak, that’s the point.
Boak, full-time counsel for the Internal Revenue Service and part-time sole practitioner, is in the alpaca business.
She and her husband, John Pippinger, call their ranch north of Cheyenne the Arroyo Seco, which is Spanish for “dry gulch.” It’s home to a menagerie of animals: a couple of dogs, several cats, four horses, three llamas and a burro, and 23 alpacas, the long-necked South American animals commonly confused with llamas.
The dogs and cats, obviously used to being petted, rub up against visitors in the hopes of some attention. But the alpacas are not pets.
“They take too much money and too much time to be just a hobby,” Boak said. “We have 30 acres and we wanted to do something with the land. I always wanted to get horses, but I knew they were a black hole (financially). I researched a lot of things and came up with alpacas. It was a business decision.”
Not that she isn’t fond of them, however.
“When we got them, I fell in love with them,” she said. “They’re wonderful animals”
The most common question people ask her is what is the difference between llamas and alpacas. Though the animals look similar, llamas are bigger and stronger, often used as pack animals. Boak said alpacas are smaller, easier to handle and have better temperaments. The animals are prized for their fleece, which can be made into blankets, sweaters, scarves and hats. Unlike llamas, alpacas can be sheered every year, and they produce a finer quality fleece than llamas.
And yes, alpacas do spit—but mostly at each other. The worst of the spitters in Boak’s herd have been sold, she said.
The second question Boak hears most often is what do you do with alpacas?
In addition to breeding, raising and selling the animals, she sells their wool and products made from it.
“A lot of people have been exposed to coarse, itchy fiber that they think is alpaca, but it’s not,” she said, explaining that many blankets and sweaters labeled “alpaca” are actually a blend of alpaca and other wools. “The breeders are trying to come up with a standard for better quality wool.”
Most of the blankets and scarves she sells she has purchased wholesale. But the jaunty hats she makes herself from her alpacas’ felt.
She processes the felt herself -- “all it takes is soap, hot water and a lot of elbow grease” – and uses inexpensive dye to create the pastel-colored hats. The real beauty of this is that something marketable can be fashioned out of what would be waste material.
“Felt is the junk fiber, the fiber you would throw away,” she said. “It’s not good for spinning. The better wool is used for blanket fiber. ”
Boak has been taking her alpaca fibers to a mill in Loveland to be processed into yarn, but now she’s learning to spin the wool herself, which will cut down on her costs.
“You can sell raw wool for $2- $8 an ounce depending on the color and quality,” she said. “You spin it into yarn and sell it for $7 or $8 an ounce. If you make it into a product, you can sell it for even more. The more you can do yourself, the better profit margin you have.”
Her spinning wheel, a Christmas present from John, is the focal point of the dining room. With the sun streaming in through the French doors and a yellow tabby cat watching from the table, Boak kicks off her shoes and inches close to the wheel. Still a beginner, she struggles to thread the wool through the needle. As she gets it fed right and begins to pedal, the furrows leave her face and she falls into a rhythm.
“It’s kind of relaxing,” she said, her eyes fixed on the wheel.
In addition to caring for the animals and processing and selling the wool and its products, Boak completes the paperwork, makes the breeding decisions for the alpaca herd, shows them and markets them.
Boak attends several alpaca events a year in Wyoming, Colorado and Nebraska. The shows are part alpaca halter competitions, part judging of just the fleece, and all marketing. As a member and president-elect of the Alpaca Breeders Alliance of Northern Colorado, she often helps man the organization’s tent at the events, selling alpaca products and distributing information about the animals.
“When you go to a show, you’re trying to sell alpacas,” she said. “People say, ‘What are they good for?’ and you show them this (the products) and say, ‘This is what they’re good for.’”
Every alpaca on the Arroyo Seco ranch is DNA typed and registered. Those born there (eight this year) are given a name that is the combination of ranch name and some sort of mythological name. Boak is currently trying to expand and improve her herd, choosing to keep the most useful and highest quality animals.
Right now, the daily chores amount to feeding the alpacas and bringing the females into the barn at night, but Boak’s schedule is about to pick up.
“Once the show season starts, we’re pretty busy,” she said. “We’re gone a lot of weekends.”
Boak is using all her fees from her private practice to support her alpaca business, which is her exit strategy from her government job.
“To me the animals are something I can visualize myself doing after I retire from being a lawyer,” she said. “I’m going to try to retire from the IRS in the next few years. I’ll try to keep my private practice going for a few more years.”
“I like practicing law,” she said, “but I love the alpaca business.”
Mary Angell is a freelance writer from Cheyenne, Wyoming, and a frequent contributor to the Wyoming Lawyer.
Copyright © 2006 – Wyoming State Bar