Alpaca Farm: All in the family
Have you ever driven on Highway 334 West and noticed an unusual farm on the north side with cute, cuddly “llamas?” I have often wondered what they are. I have often wondered why they are there. I have often wondered if I dared stop and see the animals. I finally got the gumption to pull in and quickly became enchanted with these little camelids. These are not llamas. These are adorable alpacas owned by the Hrubey family of Whispering Willows Alpacas at Fishback Creek Farm.
Pam and Todd Hrubey (pronounced “Ruby”) bought their farm in 2004. Life was never simple and calm; nevertheless, they had always felt a yearning to raise some type of animal. After they were introduced to alpacas, Pam and Todd became enamored with these small mammals because of their low maintenance and loving temperaments. Alpacas can recognize their own names and are generally quiet creatures, even when they hum, cluck, and spit. They have teeth only on the bottom jaw to cut grass off at the ground; therefore, they really can’t bite. Alpacas were just the type of animal to bring serenity and humor to their busy lives.
Alpacas are intelligent, affectionate mammals that are raised for their fleece, which is sheared annually. Alpaca fleece is valued for being lanolin-free and, thus, can be worn by people with allergies to naturally lanolin-laden wool. In addition, alpaca fleece is known to be extremely warm. This luxury fiber is woven into socks, hats, scarves, and sweaters or can be purchased in skeins for knitting and crocheting. Extremely soft and silky in texture, I would compare it to cashmere. For many with sensitivity to cold, alpaca socks, gloves, and hats provide an answer for warmth because the fibers are hollow and provide wonderful insulation. I decided to test a pair of socks, as I am constantly cold and sensitive to air conditioning. My toes are delightfully warm, but not too hot. I can’t wait until winter to wear them and know they will be the answer to many a cold night. One of the farm’s clients, in particular, endured circulation problems for years and had trouble with his toes in cold temperatures. After wearing a pair of alpaca socks, he was thrilled to finally have a solution to his problems in winter.
Alpacas were originally imported from Chile, Peru, and Bolivia. In South America, white fleece is prized because it can be dyed with bright colors. In the United States, however, neutral colors, such as grey, fawn, and black, are in demand. Pam and Todd have bred animals with a wide range of natural colors to sell fleece that requires no dying, less processing, and produces a superior yarn.
Starting with two alpacas and two territorial llamas to stand guard, Pam and Todd acquired their nucleus to begin an alpaca farm. They wanted to start small and see how their own children, Zane, Hunter, and Mackenzie, would participate with the daily chores. To their delight, the teens embraced the alpacas and supported the family plan to expand the operation. Within three years, their farm became home to thirty alpacas.
Pam and Todd have many stories of how alpacas have brought humor into their lives. Their own teens would invite friends over and, of course, they would all end up playing with the alpacas. Business acquaintances have been invited to back yard BBQs and ended up with a memorable evening with alpacas. 4-H kids would also “borrow” an alpaca for their project and practice showing it, including leading it up and down the stairs. On more than one occasion, one of the children has led an alpaca through their home, usually at an inopportune moment. “Oh, mercy. There they go,” Pam has muttered as an alpaca has strutted by when she was in the middle of a phone call. She chuckles as she recalls how normal that scenario became in her home.
On another occasion, Hunter and Todd were showing an alpaca at an alpaca show in a large arena. An older woman confined to a wheelchair was watching the show by the sidelines. Their alpaca insistently wandered over, dragging Todd with her, and leaned down to gently give the lady a kiss on the cheek. It is difficult to not connect with these loving creatures.
Pam and Todd are busy building and refining their herd, with an emphasis on quality of conformation and fleece. Babies, known as crias, are being born now and more are due in the fall. On my visit, I was fortunate to see a baby only one day old. These little ones weigh only 15 pounds and ALL LEGS! On the cuteness scale, I probably rate them at 200%. Is that even possible? I think so!!
Todd and Pam hold open houses so that the public can learn about these magnificent animals. Frequently-heard comments include, “I love winter because the leaves have fallen, and I can see the animals out in the field from the road.” “I have never seen anything that cute.” or “Are they going to spit at me?” In reality, alpacas normally spit only at each other, usually as they fight over food. People have a natural curiosity and affinity for these beautiful animals.
The Hrubeys are a closely-knit family that are even closer because they all work together to support the farm. Zane, Hunter, and Mackenzie are now adults. Hunter has taken over the lead role in the family as manager of the farm. All remain involved in the family business and exhibit the pride of a parent as they tell you all about their favorite animal.
The Hrubeys love to show off their alpaca herd and each animal’s unique personality and traits to the public during their open houses. For example, fleece is sheared and collected from each specific alpaca. When sufficient fiber from one animal is pooled and is sent to the mill for cleaning and spinning, it will be catalogued under the alpaca’s name. Eventually, there may be socks, gloves, scarves, and hats for purchase at their online farm store that are made from the fleece from your favorite little alpaca!
Pam suggested a cute party idea of serving “alpaca feet” by taking two brazil nuts, banding together in a cookie, and then dipping the tips in melted chocolate. Voila! You have little alpaca feet for your dessert tray!
It is obvious how much the Hrubeys love their alpacas and take great pride in showing them to our community. Alpacas are cute, affectionate, and quiet little beings. Just as alpacas have become part of the Hrubey family, they could very well become part of yours too!
To learn more about upcoming open houses, updates on animals, and latest news, visit www.whisperingwillowsalpacas.com.