WILLIAMS, Ariz. — For years, Williams residents Rob and Donna Jorissen had an idea in the back of their minds to start a business raising alpacas and making yarn.
In January, that idea came to fruition when Mystic Pines Fiber Processing started operating at the couple’s home off of Espee Road. Besides alpaca fiber, the Jorissens also process sheep’s wool, mohair and fiber from llamas and camels to produce yarn.
The idea to raise alpaca and run a mill started several years ago when the economy was thriving, as well as the alpaca industry.
“During that time you’d see commercials on the TV where some woman would be going, ‘I quit my job, I got out of the corporate office and I started raising alpacas and I love it and I’m making more money than I used to.’ And we’d look at each other and go, ‘Yeah, those animals are kind of cool,’” Donna said. “For a long time that whole alpaca thing was just in the back of our head.”
Then about four years ago the couple went on vacation to Palisade, Colo. for a peach festival. They missed the festival, but ended up spending several hours touring a nearby alpaca farm and mill.
“I remember Donna being in the mill and she said, ‘I could do this all day,’” Rob said.
When they returned from that trip, the Jorissens started to more seriously consider buying alpacas. They visited a few ranches to learn what they could about the animals and then about two and a half years ago bought some of their own.
“We started out with what was going to be six I think and all of a sudden we came home with 15,” Rob said. “And then within five months we saw a gray herd, which there aren’t a lot of gray alpaca in the southwest, and we thought, ‘Well you know this would be kind of nice to kind of grow a gray herd.’”
So the couple added 10 gray alpaca to their herd. With the birth of a couple of baby alpacas, or cria, and a few other alpacas that they board, the Jorissens are now up to 30 alpacas at their ranch.
Caring for alpacas
The Jorissens feed and water the alpacas twice a day, keep their nails and teeth trimmed, give them shots when necessary, and shear them once a year.
Two Maremma Shepherd dogs, Molly and Clyde, help protect the alpacas.
“They’re great dogs,” Rob said. “People always said, ‘You’ll be just so surprised how they just know what to do.’ And they do.”
When the Jorissens decided to buy the alpacas, Donna took a class about delivering cria, which ended up paying off one New Year’s Eve.
While cria are normally born during the day, in this case the alpaca started giving birth at 5 p.m. when it was 12 degrees outside.
Donna helped with the birth by making sure the cria came out with its head and two feet first, after one foot got stuck. The couple had to put a coat on the cria to keep her warm in the winter weather.
“We sat out there most of the night because it’s very important that the baby learns how to nurse in the first 24 hours,” Donna said. “It’s very crucial for their nutrition and antibodies.”
That alpaca is now a little more than a year old.
“She’s a moose now, I mean she’s just huge,” Rob said.
Buying the mill
At this point, the Jorissens had bought their herd of alpacas but had no way to process the animals’ fiber. Then a couple of years ago Rob looked up fiber mills on the Internet and found one for sale in Montana.
The Jorissens started talking to the women who owned the mill and eventually traveled to Montana to look at the equipment in October of 2012. By springtime, they had gotten their financing in order. In June they flew to Montana again to learn how to run the equipment.
“We took a lot of pictures and took a lot of notes,” Donna said.
After getting a feel for how the equipment worked, they dismantled the mill into five sections and loaded it into two tractor-trailers to transport it to Williams.
When the equipment arrived, their fiber processing building wasn’t finished yet, so the Jorissens kept the mill parts under tarps in their yard.
The building was finished in the first week of July, and the Jorissens got to work reassembling the mill. The facility was finally up and running just before Christmas.
“It’s a huge machine,” Rob said of the fiber mill. “It’s a little intimidating when you see it for the first time, but once you’ve dismantled it and put it back together, the nice thing about it is it’s all mechanical. It’s just all belts and chains and flywheels and bolts and nuts for adjustment, no computers, nothing like that.”
The 35-foot long Davis & Furber fiber mill is from the late 1940s and is unique because it has two cards that comb through the fiber. Rob believes the machine is one of about five or 10 left in the country of its kind.
Many years ago, the mill was located in Connecticut or Massachusetts where it was used in one of the largest pompom factories. From there it went to North Carolina before moving to Montana in about 2002.
The card machine does not require a lot of maintenance other than grease. By loosening or tightening nuts and bolts, the Jorissens can adjust the space between the rollers that comb through the fiber.
While some people use smaller “mini mills” to process animal fiber in their basements, the Jorissens opted for a full-size mill.
“Our thought initially was to try and cut down on processing time with the larger equipment,” Rob said, adding, “I prefer the older way, the older equipment. It’s easier to work on.”
In January, the Jorissens started accepting fiber from other people as well as processing the fiber from their own alpacas. They had two years worth of fiber, which came out to about 300 pounds, that they started with to practice.
“It’s a pretty steep learning curve,” Rob said of the process.
Next week, the News will cover how the Jorissens process fiber at their mill.
More information is available at www.mysticpinesfiber.com.