Ask Audrey Hackbarth about her alpacas and you’ll get quite an answer. She will tell you about Terracotta, and the daughter she had, Saturn-Lee, and her daughter Jupiter-Lee. There is also Cinnamon Toast-Lee, Chiquita and her daughter Chi-Lee along with Brown Sugar-Lee, not to mention Corkscrew and Corn Dog. You get the picture; alpacas are Audrey’s thing.
Hackbarth is also known as the “Alpaca Whisperer” and her friends affectionately call her “Alpaca Audrey.” Hackbarth discovered her passion for these four-legged, furry friends by an unfortunate turn of events in 2010 and an unusual gift from her husband. A serious car accident had Hackbarth housebound. So, her husband Mark bought her a baby alpaca named Chiquita to stay with her in the house. At the time, Hackbarth had never even heard of an alpaca, let alone know what she was going to do with one. Hackbarth remembers this, “I just fell in love with her. She was so tiny, and so cute, and huge eyes. Their eyes really talk to you.”
What happened next no one saw coming. “I got my first one, and I was hooked… 50 later.” That’s right. Hackbarth now has dozens of alpacas on her property. Smaller than a llama, alpacas are specifically bred for their fleece. Hackbarth can be described as a one woman wollen mill. “I shear them. I wash it. I card it. I spin it. I dye it. I weave it. I felt it. We make rugs. We make the slippers. You name it, we make it here,” said Hackbarth.
The alpacas and Hackbarth have become celebrities around Wisconsin Rapids because it’s not uncommon for her to load one up in her “car” and drive into town. Stopping at the local strip mall or alongside the road to sheer the alpaca for all to see. Hackbarth describes the scene like this, “I’m mobbed with people, and they just watch me give them a haircut.” And as for those driving by, “Oh my gosh, they get whiplash. They get whiplash.”
The hobby that quite literally got started by “accident” is now a full-time endeavor and Audrey is completely self-taught. Hackbarth said, “You can go out on your worst day, and they can make you feel really good. They see me at the front gate in the morning, and they all come running.”
And if there was a lesson learned from her foray into raising alpacas, it would be this. “You can’t just have one potato chip, you have to have more.” That’s kind of what happened here with the alpacas.