Two weekends ago, my family went on an expedition to Home Again Farm in Theresa, NY (http://www.hafalpacas.com/HAFhome.htm) , to learn about alpacas. The farm is owned and operated by Gail and Daryl Marsh. Home Again Farm is a family-run farm, originally established in 1831 as a dairy farm. After 30 years away in New Jersey, Gail and Daryl returned to the north country as the sixth generation to farm the land Gail grew up on. They have been raising alpacas since 2005. The 50-acre farm is currently home to 20 alpacas and Red, the cat. Gail and Daryl also have begun growing grapes for wine-making to supply local wineries.
I had called ahead to make sure our visit would work with their schedule, and they fit us right in on Sunday afternoon. We received a 2-hour personal tour! Gail and Darrel were very welcoming, and put us all immediately at ease. It was apparent that they had given many tours for families, school groups and other audiences.
Gail told us that we would first visit the "ladies" in a small corral next to the main barn, and that they would be most comfortable with us if we kept our arms and hands down, walked slowly and just sat down on the rock or bench provided. We followed her instructions, and it wasn't long before we were nose-to-nose with these curious, expressive animals! Bailey, the brown alpaca most comfortable with human company, laid down at our feet and let us stroke her amazingly deep, soft fleece. We watched as Peaches, the head female, squealed a warning to the herd when a cat appeared across the road, and all 9-12 alpacas stood alert and focused. Alpacas are most comfortable in a herd for protection, and we could see why. Their most dangerous predator in our parts are not cats or coyotes, but domestic dogs.
We had a shorter visit with seven "fellas" in a separate pasture. Only one decided to come to the fence and sniff us. They were very spirited young men, too! Daryl had sheared two of the boys recently, and it was amazing to see how much bulk the fur adds to their physiques. One alpaca yielded 10 pounds of fiber! Daryl demonstrated the operation of their shearing table in the barn, and showed us the variety of clippers needed to humanely remove the fur. With summer coming early here, I'm sure the shearing would provide much relief for the animals. By fall, their thick regrown coats will keep them warm outside in temperatures well below zero.
I also was able to spend quite a bit of time browsing Gail's lovely shop. I was most interested in the yarn from her animals, and she pulled out a healthy stock of yarns for me to peruse. While I took to drooling and moaning as I petted the yarns, she told me which animals had contributed which fiber. I chose three skeins - two a gorgeous warm brown, and one a dark chocolate and cream blend. Each skein came with a tag telling all about the individual that grew that particular yarn. Her shop was also filled with items from a Peruvian coop crafted with alpaca yarn, and I certainly plan to return for holiday gifts - oh the double-layer alpaca gloves and the slippers lined with luxurious alpaca fur!
Other interesting things I learned about alpacas:
Fur color is not determined by genetics necessarily.
Alpacas' feet are not hooved - they have two toes with nails, and their feet are soft.
All individuals in the herd go pee and poop in one chosen spot, not all over the pasture - easy to clean up the mess!
Alpaca babies are usually born in the very early morning so that they can move with the herd later. If not ready, the mother will leave the baby behind in favor of staying with the herd.