Friday, April 20, 2018
Business

Odessa ranch cares for alpacas 'like family'

ODESSA — As Brenda Crum neared a chain-link fence at Golden Spirit Alpaca Ranch, a set of big, black eyes framed by long lashes watched her.

"She loves to give kisses," Crum said as Maudie, 6, nuzzled her nose against Crum's face. Other alpacas rolled in dirt, basked in the sun and stripped bark off a crape myrtle.

Crum, 59, was working as an operating room nurse when inspiration struck one weekend in 2005. She was flipping through a farm magazine at a tractor supply store where she and her husband, Frank, shopped for supplies for their barn. There was a picture of an alpaca, a descendant of the camel and cousin of the llama.

She and Frank had 8 extra acres at their home that needed a use. Let's get some alpacas and see what happens, he said.

She bought four and quickly discovered a learning curve.

"We didn't know what we didn't know," she said.

She got showered with alpaca spit and got kicked trying to trim alpaca toenails. But she learned to predict spit in time to prevent or dodge it, and to provide space so she doesn't get kicked. Gradually she cultivated a business of shearing them for fleece, breeding them and selling their offspring. Then she bought more.

Her herd grew so big that Crum had to stop working as a nurse. She also needed a bigger ranch. In increments, she bought a tree farm, a horse farm and an orange grove along Tarpon Springs Road and turned them into Golden Spirit. The ranch has 75 acres of pasture for grazing.

A herd manager, a groundskeeper, a ranch hand and four part-time employees run the ranch with Crum. The staff helps her monitor the herd's health by overseeing behavior, weighing the animals monthly and doing ultrasounds on pregnant alpacas, which carry their babies for 11 1/2 months.

The staff also provides grain, hay and water, trains the alpacas to be led with halters, and cleans up manure — lots and lots of it.

The market for alpaca fleece is undeveloped, Crum said — it isn't mass produced. The fleece is comparable to cashmere and is used for sweaters, coats, gloves, hats, scarves, yarn and rugs.

This year, Crum estimates that the ranch has harvested 700 pounds of fleece. She'll send some of it to fleece shows to be judged for quality. The rest will be sold raw, sent to a co-op to be combined with other alpaca owners' fleece crops or sent to mills to be turned into yarn.

The ranch also sells alpacas to people as a commodity or as pets, and boards them. Crum owns about 150 of the 180 alpacas at the ranch. The others belong to owners who show them, breed them, sell them or have them as pets but don't have the space or time to take care of them without help.

Jamie Flores, president of the Florida Alpaca Breeders Association, lives in Seminole and owns 30 alpacas. She boards 14 females and two males at Golden Spirit.

"Brenda does all my breeding, she does all my birthing. Females require quite a bit more attention" than males, said Flores, who works 10- to 12-hour days as a nurse. "It's a relief knowing my animals are in the best place they can possibly be."

The ranch, said herd manager Angel Rodriquez, is the best ranch he has worked at in 20 years of working with alpacas.

"Brenda cares so much about the animals," he said. "She doesn't treat them like livestock."

Added Flores: She treats them "like family."

Arleen Spenceley can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6235.

Comments
Q&A: Walmart leader chats about Florida stores, and the chain’s latest retail strategy

Q&A: Walmart leader chats about Florida stores, and the chain’s latest retail strategy

The Tampa Bay Times recently sat down with Walmart director of corporate communications Phillip Keene to chat about the retail giant’s latest retail strategies and how the company is winning over customers in a competitive market.Already, two of the ...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Spring break, hurricane relief boosted Tampa Bay hotels in March

Spring break, hurricane relief boosted Tampa Bay hotels in March

The Tampa Bay area’s hotel occupancy rate rose to 87.5 percent in March, the highest level in three years. The rise was fueled by spring break vacationers as well as insurance adjusters and hurricane cleanup crews flooding the state to restore it aft...
Published: 04/20/18
St. Petersburg police remove disabled adults from ‘deplorable’ assisted living facilities

St. Petersburg police remove disabled adults from ‘deplorable’ assisted living facilities

ST. PETERSBURG — Beef jerky, mayonnaise and Altoids mints were the only edible things in view inside one of the houses. There was no running water. The refrigerator was empty. A bed sat on top of the deteriorating living room floor. Cigarette butts b...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Marriott Edition to bring five-star hotel ambitions to Water Street Tampa

Marriott Edition to bring five-star hotel ambitions to Water Street Tampa

TAMPA — At the Gramercy Park Hotel in New York City, hotelier Ian Schrager transformed a Jazz Age building with its own rich history into a destination offering even more heady experiences — extravagant, edgy and bohemian.In Tampa, Schrager will have...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Here’s your first look at what will be Riverwalk Place, Tampa’s tallest tower

Here’s your first look at what will be Riverwalk Place, Tampa’s tallest tower

TAMPA — Developers on Thursday detailed plans for what they touted as the tallest building on Florida’s west coast, with condominiums priced in six and seven figures and a shimmering glass design they say would stand out in the skylines of New York, ...
Updated: 5 hours ago
The St. Pete Pier takes another step forward

The St. Pete Pier takes another step forward

ST. PETERSBURG — Development of the city’s long-awaited pier advanced another step Thursday.The City Council approved a $15 million construction contract and additional money to design a waterside restaurant, build a playground and ferret out naming ...
Published: 04/19/18
Free rides on PSTA and HART buses to celebrate Earth Day

Free rides on PSTA and HART buses to celebrate Earth Day

Those who use mass transit across the Tampa Bay area can ride for free on Sunday.To celebrate Earth Day, both the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA) and the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority (HART) will be offering free rides on Su...
Published: 04/19/18
Wells Fargo said to be target of $1 billion fine

Wells Fargo said to be target of $1 billion fine

Federal regulators are poised to impose a $1 billion penalty on Wells Fargo for a number of alleged misdeeds, including forcing customers to buy auto insurance policies that they didn’t need, according to people briefed on the regulatory action. The ...
Published: 04/19/18
Tech Data names Rich Hume to take over as CEO

Tech Data names Rich Hume to take over as CEO

CLEARWATER — A longtime IBM executive is becoming the new leader of Tampa Bay’s largest public company. Tech Data on Thursday named Richard "Rich" Hume as its new CEO effective June 6. Hume joined Tech Data two years ago and is currently the chief op...
Published: 04/19/18
LA Fitness tones up Hillsborough location

LA Fitness tones up Hillsborough location

When LA Fitness on West Hillsborough Ave. reopens mid-summer, it will have undergone a $5 million renovation and a complete transformation. Closed since November 2017, the 10-year-old facility was completely torn down and is still undergoing construc...
Published: 04/19/18