Rock Beats Scissors; Alpaca Beats Chickens

Cover of Camelid Quarterly featuring a tall, blond alpaca

A couple of years ago, I wrote about how I became an unwitting subscriber to the magazine Camelid Quarterly. My subscription finally ran out and I no longer receive their newsletter. But these animals still fascinate me. 

That’s why I decided to go the alpaca route in my latest column for Our London. A Quebec farmer really did put his herd up for sale for cheap. But that’s where reality ends in this (hopefully) amusing, absurd little piece.

So, backyard chickens are back. It’s not enough that they were told to fly the coop several years ago. Like the Avian Flu, urban hens and roosters have made their unwelcome return.

Perhaps I should thank wannabe city egg producers for setting a precedent that I will now attempt to follow in my dream of becoming a backyard alpaca farmer. A half-dozen alpacas from Quebec are for sale at a ridiculously cheap price.  Farmer Mike Caldwell claims his herd will produce the softest, most luxurious wool that can be turned into lovely sweaters that would cost hundreds of dollars at retail.  No matter that I’m allergic to wool. I’m prepared to itch and sneeze my way through getting what’s rightfully mine.

Caldwell figures his alpaca herd is worth around $3,000 but he’s letting them go for $250. I have everything required to raise alpacas: lots of grass for them to eat, shelter (as long as my husband doesn’t mind sharing his workshop), and a place to shear them (again, hubby has to move over). It’s just a matter of shearing them, sending the fibre away to get spun, and hiring someone to knit it into sweaters which I’ll proudly wear with runny eyes and incessant scratching. No more agonizing over what to give for Christmas:  alpaca sweaters for everyone. Unlike eggs, what my alpacas produce doesn’t have a best-before date. Perhaps I’ll sell raw wool or allow alpaca rides. Maybe I’ll set up a dispenser for treats and charge people to feed my alpacas. The opportunities for supplementary income are endless.

Part of our back lawn overlooks an elementary school yard. Recess will never be the same as children flock to my fence to pet my gentle alpacas. My animals will also peer over at some of our neighbours’ lawns. Imagine cutting your grass as the long necks of curious alpacas stretch over the fence to watch you. Chickens are noisy and annoying but alpacas are quietly intrusive. They can also jump over fences. Lucky neighbours will get spontaneous alpaca visits without warning. I’m bringing new adventures to the ‘hood.

We expect a lot of visitors once word gets out that we have backyard alpacas. They’re in the same family as llamas but unlike their spitting cousins, alpacas are docile and great around kids. Their feet are soft, they tend to retreat and won’t attack if they feel threatened and they’re quiet except for an occasional hiss if they’re annoyed. They also poop in the same place every time so we won’t have to worry about alpaca landmines all over the yard, just one large, identifiable heap, unlike chickens that drop scat wherever they please.

Chickens are loud and if they’re not properly cared for, they stink. They also yield much less wool than alpacas. Chickens are better off in wide open spaces, away from high population density, in an area better known as farm land. If the City of London allows residents to raise backyard chickens, what’s next? Alpacas.  And please note that alpacas get along well with goats, donkeys and horses and I’m not afraid to use them.



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