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Heart & Soul Alpacas and Spinnery

Full Service Alpaca Business... It's all we do!

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January 12, 2015

By: Cory Fisher

Heart & Soul Alpacas and Spinnery

Warm & Fuzzy

In 2005, Karen Ball was a single mom who was eager to teach her children the importance of responsibility. A former equestrian jumper, Ball thought animal husbandry would be a good experience for her kids. After extensive research, they bought five female alpacas and brought them home to their Montana ranch.

“I fell in love with alpacas, especially the babies,” said Ball. “There’s something magical about them — they’re very calming. If you sit still, they’ll come over out of curiosity. I’d rather clean alpaca pens than my own house any day.”

Meanwhile, in Oakdale, Calif., Russell Ratti and his family were raising their own show quality alpacas. Ratti’s daughter had initially become interested in raising alpacas through a 4-H project, and consequently Ratti became known regionally for his professional shearing. He then started an alpaca transporting business, which had him logging more than 10,000 miles per month.

But sadly, in 2009, the family suffered a blow, as Ratti’s wife passed away. Ratti was suddenly a single dad.

In 2008, Ball decided to relocate her kids and animals to a ranch in California. Through the small alpaca network, she became acquainted with Ratti. In 2010, Ball and Ratti combined their families and alpaca ranches in Penn Valley to create a new business, “Heart and Soul Alpacas and Spinnery.”

“The most rewarding part of our business is seeing an animal born, then later getting the fleece straight off their backs and seeing it become a beautiful, high end scarf. I love seeing the process come full circle.”
Russell Ratti
co-owner of Heart & Soul Alpacas and Spinnery

In addition, the families pooled resources and purchased a “Belfast mini-mill,” which has changed the course of their lives. In addition to raising, breeding, boarding, mentoring, selling and shearing alpacas on their 20 acres, they now produce soft alpaca yarn in their Rough and Ready mill, as well as felted fiber, “bumps” and “clouds,” “batts” and rovings” for hand spinners. They also sell hats, socks, blankets and other items made from alpaca fleece, which is warmer and softer than wool.

One of just two businesses of its kind in California, the small fiber processing mill at Heart and Soul has more than its share of business. Roughly half are orders from customers wanting their own fleece processed, while the other half consists of milling fleece from their own 40-plus alpacas, which live on their ranch just five miles away. They routinely fill orders for customers ranging from three to a thousand pounds, said Ratti, and during shearing season the warehouse is filled nearly to the ceiling with bags of fleece.

“The most rewarding part of our business is seeing an animal born, then later getting the fleece straight off their backs and seeing it become a beautiful, high end scarf,” said Ratti, who’s now learning to weave. “I love seeing the process come full circle.”

Alpacas are small, domesticated animals that were initially bred for their soft fleece, which — unlike wool — contains no lanolin, making it a hypoallergenic fiber.

Alpacas have been bred in South America for thousands of years, reportedly for Incan royalty, which may be why it is often referred to as “the fiber of the gods.” Today, alpacas are no longer imported from outside of the United States.

Aside from building a successful business, Ball says it’s been a labor of love. In addition to her beloved alpacas, she says owners of the unique animals are a special breed. Some have sold everything they own to buy alpacas, while others are millionaires. But their shared interest makes them a close-knit, supportive community.

As far as teaching their children responsibility, it just might have worked. Ball said their oldest is starting his own shearing company.

To contact Staff Writer Cory Fisher, email her at Cory@theunion.com.