End of the herd at Swiss Line Al­pacas

The Southwest Booster - - OPINION - SCOTT AN­DER­SON SOUTH­WEST BOOSTER

An over two decade in­volve­ment with al­pacas has come to an end at Swiss Line Al­pacas. The herd, which at one time was as large as 100, has been sold to a new owner near Pam­brum.

Swiss Line Al­pacas, owned by Max and Hedi Goss­weiler, was a fa­mil­iar South­west al­paca breeder be­cause of their lo­ca­tion right be­side the Tran­scanada High­way in Her­bert.

“It’s 21 years since we bought our first al­pacas. It was a roller­coaster, I would say. A lot of fun stuff. A lot of stress too. In gen­eral we re­ally re­ally en­joyed the crea­tures,” Hedi Goss­weiler said just days be­fore the re­main­ing 25 al­pacas were taken to their new home on Novem­ber 3.

The cou­ple got in­volved with al­pacas dur­ing the first decade they be­came a wide-spread in­dus­try in Canada, and rode out the ups and downs of the spe­cialty live­stock busi­ness. They orig­i­nally started with a pair of fe­males, and built their herd from there.

“We just liked them so much we kept on buy­ing,” Max Goss­weiler said.

The most they ever paid for one al­paca was $15,000, which was not at the high end of the scale for breed­ers.

“That was a low price then. In 1997, when we bought the first ones, we went around and look at other breed­ers, and most fe­males we en­coun­tered were any­where from $28,000 to $35,000. We were very hes­i­tant to spend that kind of money.”

How­ever, but not get­ting fe­males of the proper qual­ity, they ul­ti­mately slowed the im­prove­ment of their herd.

“The prob­lem for us was we were not knowl­edgable enough, so we bought some fe­males that were not the qual­ity you should have to have a good breed­ing pro­gram. That sort of hurt us,” he said.

Two years later they in­vested in a high pro­file sire, and that be­gan to help their herd a lot. How­ever, as they were still work­ing with medi­ocre fe­males, it took time to im­prove their ge­net­ics. How­ever they even­tu­ally made strides and sold an­i­mals to breed­ers in Ger­many and into the United States.

“So we ended up breed­ing up, but it took us a long time,” he said.

It was also an eye open­ing time dur­ing their for­ma­tive years in the in­dus­try, as breed­ers with fi­nan­cial back­ing were mak­ing the big­gest gains in the in­dus­try.

“As an in­de­pen­dent breeder, the pol­i­tics in­volved in this was the most dam­ag­ing I think to the in­dus­try and to in­di­vid­ual breed­ers. I think you find that ev­ery­where. But I found it very tough. Very tough to deal with it and han­dle it,”

“I be­lieve that crazy high prices have hurt the in­dus­try the most,” he added. “It was very lu­cra­tive for these rich oil peo­ple and busi­ness peo­ple to come in and say ‘wow, you can buy a fe­male and flip it’, but in the long run it’s not good. Most peo­ple got in­jured be­cause they paid high prices that they couldn’t do what they were told they can do.”

He said that in­de­pen­dent breed­ers and new­com­ers to the in­dus­try could not buy an an­i­mal for $35,000 and hope to turn around and sell it for higher profit.

“A lot of peo­ple got in­jured that way and then they got dis­cour­aged and they just gave up and they said well, it’s a loss. So they walked away,” he added. “The in­dus­try needs a lot of grass­roots peo­ple com­ing in and say ‘hey, we like it’. And not go­ing to be broke af­ter you’re in.”

Hedi de­vel­oped an al­paca gar­ment busi­ness, and Al­paca Ex­pres­sions of Canada is well known in the South­west for her knit­ted gar­ments and ac­ces­sories. She crafts items like gloves, mit­tens, socks, in­soles, sweaters, scarfs, seat warm­ers, blan­kets and hats.

“I make them. They’re all one of a kind. Just what­ever you can wear.”

And while they are leav­ing the al­paca rais­ing busi­ness to be­gin a new chap­ter in life, she will not stop work­ing with al­paca fi­bre.

“I couldn’t stop there, I have too many ideas and too much on the go. Too many phone calls,” she laughed.

SCOTT AN­DER­SON/SOUTH­WEST BOOSTER

Max and Hedi Goss­weiler from Swiss Line Al­pacas sold their fi­nal 25 al­pacas to con­clude a 21-year ca­reer of rais­ing al­pacas.

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