Being a grandmother gives me the opportunity to visit places that, normally, I just do not take the time to visit. Last week I took my grandson to Smith Mountain Lake Farm on Morewood Road to visit the alpacas. What a wonderful trip! I had no idea that alpacas were so cute, so friendly, and so interesting. The tour costs $5.00 per person and it is worth every penny. Robbin Martinelli, owner of the farm, starts the tour with a detailed history of alpacas.
Alpacas (a member of the camel family and little cousin to the llama) were exported for a few years to the United States from Peru in the mid 1980s. The doors for importation were then closed and only the alpacas in the US were registered with their progeny gaining registration through registered parents. Alpacas in the US are also DNA blood-carded and the information is kept at the ARI (Alpaca Registry). This is maintained to prove quality and purity in the blood lines. Since alpacas can no longer be imported, due to the high quality of the genetics in the US and the quality of the ARI, other countries come to the US to purchase alpacas.
It seems there are only about three million alpacas worldwide with 94% of them living in South America in countries like Peru, Chili, and Bolivia. The worldwide population is made up of two different breeds…93% Huacaya (pronounced Wa-ky-ya) and 7% Suri. Smith Mountain Lake Farms is home to Huacaya alpacas. The two types have similar body structures but differ greatly in their fiber. Huacaya fiber is fuller fleece with crimp and stable and the Suri fiber grows in locks that have more luster and length.
After the history lesson, we proceeded out to the pasture where we got to feed, pet, and hold the alpacas. When Robbin and Jay Pratley brought out the food, the dams (mother alpacas) and their cria (baby alpacas) came bouncing across the field and walked right up to us. Alpacas like to be with their families and they like to stay together in a group. They are very friendly and only spit when angry or scared. All of the alpacas literally ate the food right out of our hands. Alpacas only have one row of bottom teeth (no top teeth) and have padded feet like a dog. They are referred to as “green” livestock since they are so gentle to the environment.
Alpaca fiber, which is used to make fine clothing and things like Pendleton blankets, comes in 22 color variations including white, fawn, brown, gray, black, and all the natural shades in between. White alpaca fiber dyes beautifully. Alpaca fiber has softness unlike any other natural fiber. Huacaya alpaca fiber is crimpy and soft. Suri alpaca is silky and lustrous. Most people find the fiber to lack the itch associated with wool. The fiber is also very lightweight, yet warmer than wool. Robbin recently started another company, My Alpaca Pillow, which makes pillows using alpaca fiber. The pillows are all-natural, hypoallergenic, naturally fire-resistant, and very comfortable.
Alpacas like their necks petted and we learned the best way to hold an alpaca is to wrap your arm around their necks and pull them in close to your body. They were so soft to the touch and seemed to enjoy being loved by us. The tour did last about two hours, so come prepared to stay for a while. It was enjoyable, educational, and a whole lot of fun. And…we came away with a LOT of information about alpacas!
For more information and to set up your own tour call Robbin at 540.719.0281 or visit their website. Well…Rosie, Krystal, Tiffanie, Milana, Revo, and Colossus got to meet my family and me. Now they want to meet YOU! Give Robbin a call…the alpacas are waiting…