photo by Jerry Baldock
photo by Jerry Baldock
When Marlene and Jerry Baldock arrived in Sisters Country 10 years ago, the pair settled on a lovely piece of property in the Cloverdale area. Marlene had a hankering to raise animals, and after researching llamas and coming up with a great big no, she turned to alpacas. The smaller, gentler cousin of llamas were well established in the area and soon Desert Song Alpacas was launched.

Marlene became acquainted with the Pieper family of Panorama Ranch, long-time Sisters-area breeders of alpacas.

“They were so generous with their years of experience and knowledge,” said Marlene.

The Piepers’ help, plus attending seminars and reading plenty of books, enabled Marlene to set up one of the most efficient and tidy alpaca units in the area. Over time, she did some breeding, sold some and increased her herd from the original six to 11.

Those 11 are going to a new home, with Ashley and Aaron Okura. Marlene wanted them shorn and vaccinated before the transfer so they could settle into their new home with no distractions. Shearing day was last week, and long-time Sisters shearer Allan Godsiff got the job done with minimal fuss. Marlene’s barn and shearing area is spotless and the animals are calm and soft-eyed — which most alpacas are naturally — but Marlene’s seem particularly so. The care lavished on them is evident.

Only one of the animals objected, and Marlene wiped off the spit clinging to her hair and shirt with a smile, adding that it’s all part of the deal with owning camelids, the species genre that alpacas and llamas are in. Godsiff noted that shearing day is usually an alpaca’s least favorite day of the year and that they rarely spit the other 364 days.

Over the years, Marlene experimented with various ways of using the soft, fine alpaca fiber. Some of it went to Pendleton Woolen Mills, returning as warm and cuddly blankets. Rugs from a skilled weaver in Texas adorn floors, and some of the fiber was spun into yarn or used for felted craft projects. Alpaca fiber is prized by fiber artists and fine garment makers because of its unique insulating properties and softness.

The time has come for the Baldocks to be freed from the ties of diligent animal care. For the Okuras, it’s a time to add to the herd of 16 alpacas they already have. The Desert Song animals will eventually become part of the viewscape that guests at the Best Western Ponderosa Lodge enjoy. Previously, an aging herd of llamas resided there. Those animals, now in their 20s, have been relocated to Ashley’s family place, the Reed Ranch. The front pasture at the Ponderosa Lodge is undergoing a renovation, and the changeover will happen when it is finished.

Lori Ketchum works in the human resources department of the Best Western Ponderosa Lodge and has been a long-time employee of the Reed family. She is also a skilled fiber artist who cleans, spins and dyes the raw fiber, selling the yarn in the lobby of the hotel.

“For many years she has done this with the llama fiber,” said Ashley. “She has the same plan for the alpaca fiber, with all the proceeds going to the Bill and Jan Reed Memorial Scholarship.” (Editor's note: This scholarship was established in memory of Bill and Jan Reed who died in a plane crash in 2005. The Reeds were driving forces in the Sisters schools and were involved in the community in a variety of ways. Bill served on the Sisters School Board for a number of years and Jan was active in the reading program, SMART.) 

Ashley added that plans are afoot for a party to welcome the Desert Song alpacas to their new home.