By Chris Eversole
Mike and Kathy Fleming of Mustang were looking for something to do together after Matt, the youngest of their three children, graduated from high school.
The couple has woven together a business – Mustang Creek Alpaca Co. – based on the South American breed of animals that are smaller than llamas.
They raise alpacas on their six acres in near the western edge of Mustang.
“Taking care of the animals is something we do together. It’s strengthened our bond” Mike said.
“As we tell people interested in raising alpacas, both husband and wife need to be onboard.” she said. “You can’t make it work just because they’re cute.”
The Flemings operate a store in Oklahoma City. “We’re in Stockyards City, which is a big tourist area,” Kathy said. “People are gaga about ‘made in Oklahoma.’”
The Flemings are regulars at the state fair, participating in the make-believe City of AGtropolis, a set of exhibitions related to agriculture. They also have a retail booth.
The couple got the idea of raising alpacas when they visited an alpaca farm in Oregon in 2006. Kathy had wanted to visit the farm because she’s a knitter, but what really caught her eye was a Great Pyrenees named Charlie that roamed the place.
“I fell in love with him, and I thought if I had an alpaca farm, I’d get a Great Pyrenees,” Kathy said.
Mike and Kathy bought their farm in 2009. The following year they visited their first alpaca show in Shawnee.
They learned about processing alpaca fleece into finished products from other alpaca farmers in Oklahoma.
Although more than a decade has passed, they haven’t taken in a Great Pyrenees.
What they have done is build a solid business in which they use all parts of their alpacas.
Each April, they hire a professional to shear the fleece – which is about 6 inches long by then.
They send some of the fleece to a fiber mill in Michigan, where their sock yarn is made and then shipped to sock mills in the U.S. This year’s 125 lbs. shipment of fleece has yielded 220 socks.
The thick socks are made of a blend with wool and other fibers. “Alpaca fleece doesn’t hold its shape, so we need to blend it with a fiber that does,” Mike said.
The Flemings keep some of the fleece, and they run it through a machine that makes felt used to make shoe inserts.
Other products include coats, blankets, pillows, gloves, mittens and slippers. A Tulsa nursery buys the farm’s manure.
Alpaca fleece is prized for its softness. When an alpaca’s fleece is subpar, the Flemings cull the animal from the herd and produce jerky, meat sticks or summer sausage.
The alpacas enjoy visitors because they get treats as a reward for their cooperation.
The alpacas are quiet and don’t create an odor. “One of our neighbors says that the alpacas are great neighbors,” Mike said.
The animals do live up to their reputation of spitting. “They spit at each other to settle arguments or at us when we shear them or clip their toenails,” Mike said.
The couple planned the farm as a retirement business. The retirement part is coming slowly.
Kathy retired from her work in health care two years ago, and Mike has two years to go before he retires from his job as a flight inspector at Will Rogers World Airport.
“We keep busy, but we do get some time off; the kids come over and help out when we’re gone,” Mike said. “The grandkids really enjoy the alpacas.”