I played hooky a week ago today. I emailed all of my clients in advance to say I’d be away, just because. It was a mental health break and a chance to hang out with my sister-in-law and about 40 alpacas.
We booked an Alpaca Walk at S.A.M.Y.’s Alpaca Farm and Fibre Studio in the Kerwood area, west of Strathroy. The experience is an hour-long visit to the farm, culminating in walking an alpaca down a side road. We had no idea it would be so much fun or so informative. We had a beautiful, sunny, if cool day for it.
Alpacas are from the Camelid family that includes camels and llamas. Unlike a camel, an alpaca cannot be ridden. Its spine isn’t strong enough to carry a person, or to be a pack animal. Instead, they’re coveted for their soft hair, used in textiles.
First, we met the girls and fed them shredded carrots, a nutritious treat. Males and females are separated for population control. Apparently, alpacas can breed like rabbits. The carrots are shredded because alpacas don’t have top teeth. Instead, they have a hard palate and several stomachs, like a cow, in order to break down food. Biting isn’t an issue. Besides, they’re quite docile and although not overly friendly, pretty tolerant. Babies are inquisitive and bold. This little guy made a beeline for my ring and sucked on it before attempting to claim Barb’s sunglasses.
They all have names that I can’t possibly remember. Several are rescues from other farms and from people who thought having an alpaca would be fun. They’re a lot of work and need to be in a pair, or even better, a pack. Alpacas are social animals. And like any living creature, raising them is a responsibility. In this case, that responsibility could last a lifespan of 20 years or more.
An alpaca is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get. It could be any colour at birth. The younger they are, the softer their wool. Lucky for me – allergic to wool – alpacas are hypo-allergenic. The farm produces fibres turned into socks, hats, mitts, and whatever else you can think of.
There’s so much to learn about alpacas. For example, females have control over their reproductive system. They can choose when to drop an egg and get pregnant. How amazing is that? They re pregnant for 11 months and if the weather isn’t favorable or something else isn’t right, they can stop labour and give birth another day. And if their significant other approaches them for another mating session and they’re already pregnant, they’ll shoo him away.
I chose Reuben as my walking partner. Not all alpacas are walkers. Only males get the job and if they don’t take to it, that’s quite alright at this farm. Alpacas have distinct personalities and the staff work with them and don’t force anything. Reuben, for example, is about 13 years old. He has never gotten into the whole mating thing. He’s an excellent, calm walker, even when we had to move off the road to let cars go past. He also has a rare greyish-purplish coat. They’d like to try for more of that shade of fibre but Reuben isn’t interested.
A few llamas – including one named Lorenzo of course – live on the farm as companions and protectors. Llamas are taller than alpacas. They enjoy the sweet life the alpacas have, with attention, treats, and love. If there’s a threat to the alpacas, the llamas will form a circle around the babies and do their best to neutralize the threat. Alpacas and llamas can successfully crossbreed, too. There are also a few goats, a friendly ram, and a mountain goat on the farm.
The hour felt like we were there all afternoon, in the best way. Breathing fresh air and learning about these fascinating creatures was the tonic I needed. Thank you Colleen for sharing your knowledge, and Reuben, Nicholas, and your friends for letting us hang around and walk you.
Shearing time is just ahead and these long-haired animals are about to lose their coats for the summer. We couldn’t resist buying alpaca socks. They’re like having a cozy friend on your feet. If you want a deep dive into the alpaca world, the farm has an AirBnB. You can find S.A.M.Y.’s on Facebook or on their website HERE.