Alpaca Farmers: Who We Are

Paris?  Barcelona?  Bora Bora?  No – just take me home.   Don’t get me wrong, you will find me with a boarding pass in my hand and ready to go at a minute’s notice to any of the above, but when you dig a little deeper, and really think about your favourite journey and place to be, there is only one answer.  At least for me.

As I am writing this article, we have enjoyed one of the most beautiful autumns we have seen in Ontario in many years.  A few weeks ago I was winding my way home down a beautiful country road after a day’s work, off-farm.  I have about a 40-minute drive from my office through the Trent and Oak Hills – not really a hardship, more a pleasure.  It is my habit to listen to the CBC on the way home, and that day they played an interview with Canadian actor Paul Gross who was responding to the CBC’s version of the Proust Questionnaire.

The Proust Questionnaire had its origins in the late 1800s and is meant to reveal one’s personality through a series of questions that elicit short and prompt responses.  Today, the CBC and Vanity Fair magazine amongst others have adapted the questionnaire to interview celebrities, often revealing surprising and familiar character traits, making that person both more familiar and more interesting at the same time.

As I listened to Paul Gross respond to the questions, I was traveling down my road, almost home.  The leaves were bursting with fall colours, and I was alert for deer which I often encounter along the way.  Gross was asked, “name your favourite journey” to which he responded some exotic, far away location.  I couldn’t help but think, I am on my favourite journey right now, and I travel it every day:  the journey home to the farm.

Top Adirondak ChairThere is nothing like the journey home.  In my case, it winds your through some beautiful hills and countryside, past a varied collection of farms and country homes, over the Trent River, and ultimately up the driveway, past each pasture, where the herd watches and runs with excitement when you drive in.  I can’t wait to get home to see what the day has brought to the farm.  That’s my favourite journey.

I wondered, do all alpaca farmers feel the same?  I imagined they do because I am yet to meet one that doesn’t have a deep passion for their farm and their alpacas.  I had to ask.  But I wanted to dig a little deeper, and put a number of the questions to other alpaca farmers, and of course myself.  It’s only fair.  If I am asking others to bear their souls, well…  What lies ahead are the responses of 10 very different people on 10 very different farms, from newcomers only months into the experience, to some of the veterans of the industry.

Mascara the Alpaca

Ours is a farm that specializes in new farm start ups, and as a result, we have met a wealth of new and established alpaca farmers over our now 7 years raising alpacas.  The warmth, dedication and passion of these people has inspired us in the work we do on our farm every day, and left us with a wealth of treasured friends.  They are special people, all with their special place in the alpaca industry.

Here’s why…

What is the quality you admire most in other people?

  • Empathy (CC)
  • Integrity (LF)
  • Kindness & consideration (EP)
  • Sincerity towards others (MF)
  • Honesty, honour and kindness (AKO)
  • Honesty and a willingness to help others (TL)
  • The desire, willingness and ability to help others, to share and give of themselves to benefit others (HM)
  • Being genuine in person and spirit (SK)
  • Integrity combined with tenacity (HC)

 What is your favourite occupation?

  • Teaching and sharing of what I have learned (HM)
  • Carpentry (CC)
  • Animal husbandry (KE)
  • Alpaca Farmer (TL)
  • Admire nature (MF)
  • Self employment (EP)
  • Farming, just wish it could replace my FT job (SK)
  • Interior Designer tied with raising alpacas (LF)
  • Sustainable farming (HC)

 Where would you like to live?

  • Peru (KE)
  • On a lake (CC)
  • I’m living there! (EP)
  • Exactly where I am (AKO)
  • Right where I do, in the country (SK)
  • On a larger farm so I can raise more alpacas (HM)
  • We like the Kawartha Lakes Region; although most places in Canada would do fine (TL)
  • We have already chosen: in Frelighsburg, a beautiful environment (MF)
  • Ridgeway, Ontario; Banff, Alberta or somewhere in New Zealand (LF)
  • I’m here, Oak Hills, in Canada (HC)

 Who are your heroes in real life?

  • My parents (CC)
  • Mother Theresa, Ghandi (KE)
  • Nurses, soldiers, caregivers (LF)
  • Kind people who makes someone else smile (AKO)
  • Margot Phaneuf, a dedicated nurse from Quebec, who committed herself for support throughout the world (MF)
  • Anyone “un-sung”, on-the-ground volunteers in any capacity (EP)
  • My kids. They teach me everything I haven’t already learned because they are inquisitive and remember to enjoy even the smallest things (SK)
  • Children who are survivors, our soldiers and EMS, physicians & health care providers (HC)

 What do you value most in your friends?Montebello 328 low res

  • Space (EP)
  • Honesty (AKO)
  • True values (MF)
  • Consideration (CC)
  • Compassion for others (KE)
  • I have a group of friends, some of which I do not see regularly, but they willing keep the Long Weekend in May free to help with my Shearing Days.  The camaraderie and jovial antics make the days fun and productive (HM)
  • Honesty, great sense of humour, and a love and respect for animals and people (TL)
  • Respect for each person’s space – its ok if we don’t talk everyday or see each other weekly – the fun is the catching up each time we do get together (SK)
  • Honesty … something humans can learn from all animals, including alpacas: they are what they are … they are not trying to pull the wool over your eyes (pun intended) (LF)
  • Inspiring ambition, strong values, unwaivering support (HC)

 The natural talent you would like to be gifted with?

  • Sing (CC)
  • Mechanically minded (EP)
  • Water colour painting (KE)
  • Adapt to any situation (MF)
  • Animal communication (AKO)
  • To have a great singing voice (HM)
  • Speaking comfortably in public (TL)
  • The ability to be an Olympian calibre athlete and win (LF)
  • Emotional Intelligence….I bet alpacas could teach this really well if they could speak (SK)
  • A sense of direction while in the woods (HC)

 What is your favourite motto?

  • Be still… (AKO)
  • Giddy-up (CC)
  • Do unto others….. (EP)
  • Live simply so that others may live (KE)
  • Anything that doesn’t kill me makes me stronger (TL)
  • Learn from the past, plan for the future day by day (MF)
  • Go big or go home, closely followed by “don’t mistake kindness for weakness” (LF)
  • “If you did know, then what would the answer be?” – to the age old answer from kids “I don’t know….” (SK)
  • “Believe people when they show you who they are”, closely followed by “What would Laura Ingalls do?” (HC)

 What is your favourite journey?

  • Peru (CC)
  • Samoa (KE)
  • Motherhood (AKO)
  • Exploring the world (MF)
  • Traveling through Europe (LF)
  • Discovering alpacas and constantly learning more about them (TL)
  • Musical..going to exotic and unexplored areas of the soul with classical music (EP)
  • When I am traveling with a trailer load of alpacas to a new venue, fair or show where the public is coming and will view these critters.  Hoping to share the joy of raising alpacas and the value of their fleece as end products (HM)
  • Every day on the farm. We love all the new experiences – from being a bystander to the miracle of birth, to sitting next to a beloved animal in their final moments – the trust bestowed upon us as humans by our amazing farm family is such a gift and has been nothing short of an amazing journey (SK)
  • The journey home (HC)

 What is your greatest extravagance?

  • Alpacas (KE)
  • Farm animals (CC)
  • Hasn’t happened yet (LF)
  • My three amazing kids (SK)
  • Using good silver as everyday cutlery (EP)
  • Private time with people who matter deeply (AKO)
  • Satisfying my alpaca addiction by adding to our herd (TL)
  • Building a new barn completely dedicated to alpacas (HM)
  • Prepare the land, built a barn and receive alpagas in a 3 month timeline (MF)
  • A stay at the Chateau Frontenac and days lost wondering in the old city (HC)

What is your principal defect?Dec 2015 023 low res

  • Procrastination (CC)
  • Too easily trusting (AKO)
  • Taking on too much (KE)
  • Keeping up with technology (LF)
  • Inability to be detail-oriented (EP)
  • Cannot say no to anyone’s request (HM)
  • I wear my thoughts on my face/expressions. That’s a hard one….. (SK)
  • Trusting the wrong people, giving too many chances and having to deal with repercussions resulting from that (TL)
  • Saying what I think, brutal honesty (HC)

 What is your idea of perfect happiness?

  • World peace (CC)
  • Health and family (SK)
  • Being with my son Franklin (AKO)
  • Living in harmony with nature (KE)
  • A life of peace and integration to nature (MF)
  • Long days of sunshine and time to idly enjoy it (EP)
  • Watching top quality alpacas grazing on lush paddocks in beautiful weather from my deck (HM)
  • Sitting on the porch with a cup of coffee watching cria pronk in the pasture on a beautiful early (TL)
  • My husband and my animals (dogs, cat, alpacas) in a comfortable, uncomplicated environment (LF)
  • Nature, family, health and a day or two here and there with no demands beyond those of the aforementioned (HC)

 What is your greatest fear?

  • Drowning (KE)
  • Outliving savings! (EP)
  • Losing people I love (CC)
  • Not being a good mom (AKO)
  • The complacency of the human species, not seeing how team work benefits us all.
  • To not accomplish all our projects (MF)
  • Missing moments that you can’t get back (SK)
  • That my alpacas ALL have homes where they are treated with love and kindness when I can no longer take care of them (LF)
  • Another trip over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge (HC)

 What is your greatest regret?

  • I can’t think of one (KE)
  • Life is too short for regrets (EP)
  • Impatience with my parents (CC)
  • Not starting in the alpaca business sooner (LF)
  • Not buying a bigger farm thirty years ago (HM)
  • Not realizing years ago that we wanted to live on a farm (TL)
  • To not have purchased my grandfather’s farm when I was 18e (MF)
  • Not moving to the country sooner, before my father passed away – he would have loved it (SK)
  • No such thing. Everything, even mistakes, bring us to where we need to be (HC)

 What is your idea of misery?

  • War (CC)
  • Being alone (HM)
  • People going hungry (KE)
  • Again, outliving savings! (EP)
  • Not to be able to reach our goals (MF)
  • Not being able to make hurts go away (AKO)
  • Losing a person or animal you love dearly (LF)
  • Not having a reason to get out of bed each day (SK)
  • Uncontrollable decline of health. Deprivation from nature (HC)

 Which living person do you most admire?Feb 2014 3 080

  • Jane Goodall (AKO)
  • My partner (CC)
  • My sister (LF)
  • David Suzuki (KE)
  • Our parents (MF)
  • Queen Elizabeth (EP)
  • CSA farmers to be honest. What an exciting, brave adventure! (SK)
  • Every now and then you meet or hear of someone else who takes your breath away and inspires. Today it would be Malala Yousafzai.  How do you know when you are that young what is right, and act on it with such conviction and courage?  Wow!  (HC)

 What do you consider to be your greatest achievement?

  • Our children (MF)
  • Building a raccoon proof chicken coop (CC)
  • Making a living from being self employed since leaving school (EP)
  • To have loved deeply and to have been able to make a positive difference (AKO)
  • Turning 30 empty acres into a homestead with gardens, maple and evergreen trees (HM)
  • Providing a safe predictable environment for some of the children that I taught who came from unstable homes (KE)
  • Following my passion working with animals and having a partner that works by my side every step of the way (TL)
  • Learning to believe in myself and believe I can achieve anything — AND never being afraid to try anything once (LF)
  • Being exactly where I am today, with a family that enjoys life, has dreams and goals, and can still find the time to admire the beauty of the farm around us and the simple things in life. (SK)
  • Sticking to the high road, 99% of the time, on this 46 year journey. And having the courage to leap, outcome unknown, into unfamiliar territory and turn a field into a family farm (HC)

 What is your most treasured possession?

  • My home (CC)
  • My books (KE)
  • My family (LF)
  • Memories (AKO)
  • Our love as a couple (MF)
  • My memory as long as I have it! (EP)
  • My husband and kids. After that what is there?  Material things can be replaced (SK)
  • Our home, built by family (HC)

 Jett Banner
What is your favourite alpaca name?

  • I look for something  unique to that alpaca, such as a band of darker coloured fibre around one leg above the knee. . . . . looks like  a bracelet, then translate into Spanish to get Pulsera! (HM)
  • That’s a hard one, they have all been named for their personality. If I had to choose one of ours though it would be Winsome Blissful Miracle because her birth completed a “blissful” day – as Sarah had won both champion show person and beef confirmation classes at the Madoc fair that day only to come home to the “miracle” of our first cria’s birth. (SK)
  • Too many to mention but for now we will pick Confucious (TL)
  • Magicalmysterytour (LF)
  • Kismet (AKO)
  • Joplin (CC)
  • Elvis (KE)
  • Tofino (MF)
  • Earl Gray (EP)
  • Foxy Boots (HC)

Delivery
And what about you?  What’s your favourite alpaca name, or greatest achievement, or most prized possession?  Do you recognize yourself in these responses?  Did you ask yourself the same questions, and find yourself surprised with the responses?  As alpaca farmers we find ourselves among such thoughtful, caring, grounded people.

We have a strong sense of compassion and values.  We appreciate honesty and integrity.  We are grounded in family values and have an appreciation for slow, thoughtful living, peace and tranquility.  We love nature.  And we have a strong desire to make a difference.  We have few regrets:  mostly not having began alpaca farming sooner, or having purchased a larger farm.  We have a strong pride in what we have established, built, grown and nurtured.

Montebello 286 low resBut we are not solely serious.  We are creative, building farms from nothing, or taking yesterday’s farms and making them farms of the future.  We are even creative in how we name our alpacas, chosing names that reflect an appreciation of heritage, unique characteristics, and a good sense of humor!

And we love to share our experience alpaca farming with others.  It might even be time to start a choir, with members longing to sing.  Perhaps all that humming in the barn has inspired a song.

The big things, the little things, they all matter deeply and fill us with pride.  We have an appreciation for the simple things, treasuring things we already  have.

But most of all, rather we have been at it for years, or are working day and night to establish a new farm, we have not lost our love of what we do and for our herd, despite the work, the chores, the responsibility.  It still remains our passion and pleasure.

Who We Are

AKO:  Amy Kung-Oliver, Nuevo Norte Alpacas (Salem, Ontario)  AKO

Amy is a self-proclaimed fiber fanatic, with a flare for textile artistry that is inspiring others in the industry.  After being introduced to alpaca yarn from Americo Originals, and discovering that “surprise, surprise” there are Alpacas in Ontario, within 10 days of visiting an Alpaca Farm, Amy and Eric purchased their starter herd of 6 Alpacas (two males and four females).  They now have a farm of 62 Alpacas (plus many more animals) happily gallivanting through their 24.1 acre farm.  “We aim to breed alpacas with excellent confirmation as well as fine fleece.”

CC:  Corrine Cote, Alpaca Tracks T(h)read Lightly (Oxford Station, Ontario) KE

“I have always admired these animals from a distance.  One sunny afternoon Corinne and I decided to go visit an alpaca farm near Kemptville.  It was love at first sight.  these animals are just so unique in appearance as well as in the individual personalities that they foster.”

EP:  Edward Pickering, Chetwyn Farms (Prince Edward County, Ontario)

EPTed is a retail consultant working exclusively for over 30 years with non-profit and specialty retailers in and around Toronto.  Along with his partner, Shauna Seabrook, they own and operate Chetwyn Farms, an alpaca farm in Prince Edward County, Ontario.  They are committed to sustaining both the farmer and the maker – the ones who are driven to explore and challenge themselves.

 

HM:  Henry Mengers, Andres Alpacas (Hanover, Ontario)

HM 1Henry is a retired educator and current president of Alpaca Ontario.  His farm moto is:  criating the future, where a hands-on approach is key to a long term investment in a quality rural lifestyle.  We do our own shearing; toe-nails and teeth maintenance; classing and batching of fibre;  breeding, birthing and nursing as needed; offering tours, open barn and other events along with participating in local craft shows and fairs.

KE:  Kathy Enright, Alpaca Tracks T(h)read Lightly (Oxford Station, Ontario)

CC“I have always admired these animals from a distance. One sunny afternoon, Corinne and I decided to go visit an Alpaca farm near Kemptville. It was love at first sight. These animals are just so unique in appearance as well as in the individual personalities that they foster.”

 LF:  Lynda Finbow, Split Rock Farms Alpacas (Ridgeway, Ontario)

“Split Rock Farms Alpacas began 11 years ago and how we have grown from that small operation to what we are today ….. and how much we have learned, too! We are a single-family owned and operated facility located in the lovely historic Village of Ridgeway on the southern shores of Lake Erie. “

MF:  Michel Forand, Wow Freli Alpacas (Frelighsburg, QC)

MF2Michel is a soon-to-be-retired Hydro Quebec executive who has found his passion for farming, along with his beautiful wife Chantal, who are just beginning their new alpaca adventure on Mount Pinacle in Frelighsburg, Quebec Canada.  WOW Freli Alpacas is a new farm committed raising and breeding alpacas.

SK:  Shelley Kay, Winsome Willows Alpacas (Roslin, ON)

SK1“Mother in a family of five – city slickers turned country.  Through 4H met a great family that farms alpacas and fell in love with their big eyes and soft hearts .  Currently have 8 alpacas and we are happily, but slowly moving into establishing a herd for shearing and selling the fiber.  My daughter Sarah loves to show and breeding/birthing is her niche.  We enjoy all things farming now, after only five short years in the country, with horses, chickens and dairy goats – it’s the alpacas that provide that wonderful sense of calm, gentle curiosity with some added fun whimsy (seeing the crias pronking and playing).”

TL:  Trixi Lloyd, Datrix Farms (Omemee, Ontario)

TL1David and I have been part of the alpaca world since September 2006. It all started with 1 little female cria but of course did not stop there. Up until 2 years ago we agisted (boarded) our animals which became very expensive. Now we finally have our own 100 acre farm in the Kawartha Lakes and love living here! Our herd currently consists of 55 animals, males and females, young and old. Our focus is on improving fineness and density by carefully selecting males and females that will bring us closer to our goals:  an increase in fleece weight without compromising our first 2 goals. This business has given us the opportunity to constantly learn more about these fabulous animals and help to educate others as we move along this journey.”

HC:  Heather Candler, Oak Hills Alpacas (Stirling, Ontario)  Twitter

Cria 2013 181Heather Candler, co-owner of Oak Hills Alpacas (OH Alpacas) with husband Michael and daughter Ruby lives in Stirling, Ontario, Canada.  Their sustainable farm is home to 20 alpacas, a small flock of laying hens and honey bees.  Heather works as an Agriculture & rural Economic Development Advisor with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food & Rural Affairs by day and Michael is a monuments and leather craftsman.  Their alpaca farm is their commitment to slower living to balance their busy careers and full family life.

A special and heartfelt thanks to all the alpaca farmers who bravely shared their thoughts, fears and aspirations for this article.  HC

Originally published in the December 2015 issue of Camelid Quarterly.  A special thanks to the editors for their permission to reprint.