Alpaca Days open to everyone, Sept. 29, 30

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A warning to visitors: alpacas can be addictive.

Karen Bailey-Bowman/El Defensor Chieftain: Curious alpacas crowd close. Alpacas are gentle animals that are raised for their fiber. Visitors will have a chance to interact with alpacas this weekend during the Puerta del Sol open house.

Sarracino Middle School teacher David Hunter got hooked in the late 1990s when he saw his first alpaca in California while he was on vacation.

Fast forward to 2010. Hunter, whose mother Kathy Richardson owns Socorro’s Water and Ice store, bought 30 acres near Carrizozo, about 64 miles east of San Antonio. Coincidentally, Adobe Farms alpaca ranch was also just outside Carrizozo.

That’s where he connected with what has become a passionate hobby.

“Outlaw was a three-day-old medium rose grey baby,” he said.

Hunter couldn’t resist the little guy, and after he returned to his post as a teacher at the American School in Austria, he contacted the farm and bought the alpaca.

Because he couldn’t be on site to nurture Outlaw, he boarded him at the Carrizozo alpaca farm. Then, from afar, he bought three more alpacas from Open Herd, an online alpaca auction site.

He and his mother now own 20 alpacas and have established their own alpaca farm, Puerta del Sol Alpacas, on acreage they rent from the Towner family on Windy’s Farm Road south of Luis Lopez.

What’s the attraction to alpacas?

Well, for one thing, they are incredibly cute. They are smaller than their cousins the llamas, about 100 to 200 pounds. They have irresistible small pudgy faces, fringed ears, large liquid eyes, long eyelashes and very soft fleece, which is considered fiber rather than wool or hair.

Even though they are shy, alpacas will approach a human standing or sitting quietly, especially one who has some treats to offer, Hunter said.

Alpacas, like camels and llamas, do spit when they are angry, but usually at each other and rarely at people, typically when competing with each for food treats, Hunter said. Visitors to Puerto del Sol will certainly meet Chiquita, the most friendly alpaca in their herd of breeding females and their babies.

Chiquita will come right up to a people, which gives visitors a chance to experience the exquisite softness of alpaca fleece first hand. The fleece is why alpacas are commercially raised.

“A shearer from Colorado comes down once a year in April. We still have all of the fleece,” Hunter said.

Local fiber artist Jan Combs has spun the fleece and has made samples of what can be crafted.

“She’s knitted and crocheted swatches from each animal’s fleece,” he said.

Alpacas come in various colors, so Hunter has bagged each of his animal’s fleece separately, with Combs’ swatches attached. Raw fleece from his animals as well as some commercially spun baby alpaca fleece will be on sale during the open house this weekend.

Fleece shorn from baby alpacas is the softest and highest grade, and can command up to 12 dollars per 50-gram skein. Fifty grams is about two ounces.

Visitors will also have a chance on Sunday to watch a soap felting demonstration.

Soap felting is a process where raw alpaca fleece is rubbed onto a bar of soap.

Felted soap can be used like a loofah in the shower, except since it has soap inside, it can be used to wash as well as refresh the skin, said Kathy Richardson.

Richardson said felted soap will be on sale, as well as edible alpaca poop.

Well, not real poop.

“We’ll have bags of chocolate-covered raisins for sale,” Richardson said.

Richardson and Hunter hope visitors will come away with an appreciation for these friendly animals.

If anyone gets hooked on alpacas, Puerta del Sol has some for sale, but only to buyers who are willing to learn the basics of alpaca husbandry.

“People can buy alpacas from us, but the buyers have to be trained. And you can’t buy just one, because it may die of stress,” Richardson said.

Alpacas are herd animals and need companionship, she says.

“People can buy one from us and agist it here until they get their own place,” she said. Agist is the term for boarding alpacas.

Agisting alpacas typically costs about $100 per month per alpaca, Hunter said.

Alpacas listed on the Puerta del Sol website sell from $1,000 to over $7,000 apiece.

For information about the Alpaca Days open house at the farm, call 835-2835. The farm will be open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Admission is free.