In the mid-2000s Phil Liske of Preston sought to diversify his personal business portfolio. He had a successful hay-hauling company, and his wife, Vickie, was a hairdresser. But Phil wanted something sustainable that would fulfill his lifelong dream of owning a farm like the one his grandparents owned in Connecticut when he was a boy.
His entire adult life, Liske held onto memories of the old farm: long-running stone fences, bubbling streams that tripped over rocks, and livestock to be sold for profit. For Phil, livestock as an investment presented a problem. Although he’s a meat eater and he appreciates the shore tradition of sportsmanship, raising animals for slaughter in his “retirement” did not appeal to him.
Through an online search for profitable farm ideas, Phil and Vickie discovered alpacas, the doe-eyed, fuzzy, smaller relatives of the llama. The Liskes visited numerous farms. By the third visit, Vickie thought to herself, “Oh my gosh these things have won my heart.”
Phil envisioned a lucrative business that would ensure a return on his investment. Alpacas met his list of requirements: they need small acreage, they are gentle and easy to handle, they are “low input” (they don’t eat very much) and, therefore, “low output” — a herd of 30 alpaca create about a wheelbarrow’s worth of waste per day. The Liskes took the plunge and purchased a farm where they could raise a herd.
Since 2007, the Liskes have been breeding and selling alpacas, and mentoring new owners. Bonnie Bieber, of Middletown, Del., purchased five Huacaya alpacas from the Liskes to show, breed, and use for fiber. Bieber says the Liskes are wonderful mentors.
“Alpaca people are supportive. Everyone is friendly. There’s none of the cut-throat,” she says, recalling her 40 years in the show-dog industry. In the coming months, Vickie will help Bonnie clean her first fleece harvest so that it can be spun into skeins at Painted Sky Fiber Mill in Earlville. The Liskes have high standards for selling alpaca to prospective farmers and have refused potential buyers. Those that have passed the screening process live on farms as far away as Maine and Montana.
The Liskes have capitalized on the market for alpaca fiber goods. According to National Geographic, alpaca fiber is second only to mohair in terms of strength and durability. The Liskes regularly sell out of the popular wool socks they sell in the garage-turned-boutique on the farm. Sock sales number in the thousands annually.
Sweaters, shawls, capes, hats, headbands, pillows and throws are also available. Vickie crafts some of the goods, and her friends pitch in too, by way of friendly barter. Long-time friend Nancy Eash, a talented knitter, “takes my yarn and makes stuff,” in exchange for hair services, says Vickie. Liske also stocks the store with finds from alpaca trade shows. As can be expected, there’s also canned soup for sale: visitors have their choice of Mick’s Gourmet Maryland Crab or Cream of Crab.
The farm is called Outstanding Dreams, although the Liskes registered it as “Outstanding Omen” when they bought the property in 2007. They renamed it after an ex-racehorse named Dreams who was retired to the farm. They adopted Dreams and renamed the farm to honor him. At 32, Dreams is still at home on the farm and generously shares his pasture with the herd of 30 to 40 Huacaya alpaca.
An annual September open house, Alpacafest, draws thousands of visitors annually. There’s also a holiday event in December, but visitors need not wait for an invitation. Guests and dreams are welcomed daily on the Liskes’ farm in Preston.