By Eva Potter
Every year, the last weekend in September is designated National Alpaca Farm Days when regional alpaca farms open their doors to visitors, and this year the Ellicottville Times added a new local twist — the Alpaca Adventure Trail. It’s a fun way to experience many of the region’s alpaca farms, learn about the alpaca lifestyle, purchase incredibly soft alpaca products and get to know these gentle creatures. It’s a great way to spend a day outdoors with your entire family.
Wait … What’s an Alpaca?
Not to be confused with llamas, even though they resemble them, alpacas are domesticated South American camelids native to the heights of the Andes Mountains. They were highly cherished by the ancient Incans and played an important role in Incan culture. The first alpacas arrived in the U.S. around 1984 and the population stands at about 150,000 on farms scattered across the country.
Alpacas are very gentle animals with an easy disposition that require minimal fencing. They grow to an approximate height of 36 inches, weigh 100–200 pounds and have an average lifespan of 20 years.
Plan an Adventure
Now that you know what they are, you can hit the Alpaca Adventure Trail to the delight of visitors young and old as you follow the map at www.ellicottvilletime.com (seach for Alpaca Adventure Trail map) to visit eight of the region’s premier alpaca farms. Be sure to take your camera, because your drive will lead you along some of the prettiest country roads in the area.
Oh So Soft Fiber
Alpacas are very tame and gentle animals and are often considered extended members of the family. Get close and pet one. They’re just about the softest animals on the planet!
Alpacas are bred for their fiber, which is luxuriously fluffy and silky to the touch. Some of the farms on the Alpaca Adventure Trail have farm stores where you can purchase gorgeous sweaters, stuffed animals, gloves, scarves and many other alpaca products. You can even buy natural or hand-dyed skeins to knit into your own creations.
Alpaca fiber is naturally warmer than wool or cotton, hypoallergenic, naturally flame resistant, and provides insulation even when wet. It’s considered one of the most luxurious natural fibers.
Alpacas are typically sheared in the late spring without causing injury. Their fiber naturally comes in more than 20 colors and is sought by spinners and weavers around the world.
The Alpaca Lifestyle
When you follow the Alpaca Adventure Trail, you’ll experience farming of different kind. Alpacas require minimal care and produce many wonderful returns. When you chat with alpaca owners, ask them about how and why they got into raising alpacas and you’ll better understand the alpaca lifestyle.
Many farms will be happy to educate you about spinning, felting, weaving, carding, yarn painting with alpaca fiber, as well as the annual hand shearing process. Take a walk out to the alpaca pastures. These animals are naturally curious creatures and will come to greet you.
Take a relaxing Saturday or Sunday, fill your gas tank, pack up the kids and head out for a day filled with alpaca fun. Farms included on the Alpaca Adventure Trail are A Slice of Heaven Alpacas in Randolph, BearKat Alpacas in Humphrey, Cardinal Acres Alpacas in Little Valley, Kendall Creek Farms Alpacas in Bradford, Pa., Lady Song Farm in Randolph, Mager Mountain Alpacas in Little Valley, Sugartown Farms Alpacas in Ellicottville, and VanDyke’s Alpaca Ranch in Great Valley.
Most farms are open on weekends, but it’s always good to call before arriving.
A Slice of Heaven Alpacas
Cardinal Acres Alpacas
Kendall Creek Farms Alpacas
Lady Song Farm
Mager Mountain Alpacas
Sugartown Farms Alpacas
VanDyke’s Alpaca Ranch