Alpaca Adoration

Roaming Pot Belly Pig in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Roaming Pot Belly Pig (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

On a spacious 50 acre property nestled into a hillside in Northern New Milford, Connecticut, lives an ambitious and loving couple, Judy and Salvatore Apicello, and their multi-talented son Nico.  But that’s not all that inhabits this lovely New England landscape; add in 36 alpacas, several dogs, cats, sheep, chickens . . . and a few pot belly pigs.  All living harmoniously on their beloved land, where others are always welcomed, whether two legged or four.  In fact, along with all the activities this family partakes of, they also have a bed and breakfast, where four legged companions are invited to stay as well.

Mother and baby alpaca in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Mother and baby alpaca frolicking (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

And that is how Judy Apicello came to own her first alpacas.  A woman that came to stay at one of their cottages asked to bring along her two alpacas, but when circumstances changed, the woman was unable to bring her beloved pets when she left.  Judy had always wanted to own alpacas, a dream that she and her father shared, and since his passing her desire had become much greater.  Judy took this opportunity as a sign from her father, and happily accepted the two alpacas into her family.  Now residing with 36 alpacas (and various other critters), the rest as they say, is history.

An attentive pair of females in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

An attentive pair of females (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

With names like Sienna, Hanuman and Bella Sofia, one can’t help but be enchanted the moment you enter the fields where the alpaca herds reside.  Incredibly friendly and inquisitive, they move forward with large, bright eyes watching you continually.  And the hair, why it’s crazy . . . quite similar to mine when I wake up in the morning.  Yet, unlike mine, their hair is unbelievably soft and touchable, making it the perfect product for making socks, sweaters, blankets, and scarves (etc.).  Many of us are familiar with alpaca products, their scrumptious comfort and warmth.  But where do alpacas come from?  What is their story?

What's all the commotion about? in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

What’s all the commotion about? I can’t see anything! (photo by:Kathy Diemer)

Alpacas are members of the camel family (camelid, which also includes llamas, vicunas, and guanacos) that originated on the central plains of North America, ultimately migrating to South America, primarily the Andes Mountain range.  Although treasured for their fleece by the Incan civilization, many alpacas were discovered and killed by the Spanish conquistadors during the 17th century, and the remaining herds were forced to survive in more desolate areas.  Presently, the largest populations reside in Peru, Bolivia, and Chile.  However, since the first groups were imported to the United States in the early 1980’s, it is estimated that thousands of alpaca now call the United States their home.

Alpaca'slarge, inquisitive eyes in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Alpaca’slarge, inquisitive eyes (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

There are two types of alpacas; the suri, with longer, twisted dreadlock coats, and the huacaya (pronounced woo-kai-yah), with shorter, fluffy (sheep like) fleece.  Alpaca fiber comes naturally in 22 colors that are recognized by the textile industry, and there are many blends in addition to that. Although no grooming is required, alpacas do not shed and so must be shorn like sheep each year (performed from April through May in Connecticut).  Shearing typically produces between 5 to 10 pounds of soft, silken fiber (per animal) that can be turned into some of the most cozy and luxurious garments you’ll ever wear.

Just hangin' out with the girls in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Just hangin’ out with the girls (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

Alpacas are a very social animal (though they rarely make a sound), and for those with property and knowledge, they make wonderful pets.  With an average body height of 36 inches (the head can reach 5 feet) and weight of between 100 to 175 pounds, they are small enough to be handled and trained with ease.  Alpacas are gentle, curious and intelligent, and can learn to be handled and halter trained after only a few repetitions.  Like sheep and cows, alpaca like to graze on pasture and hay, but Judy Apicello also feeds organic grain, oats and beet pulp.  Because they have no top teeth in the front, it is important that food is tender and easily cut.  They have padded feet that do not require trimming like hooved livestock, and usually only require annual shots and check-ups from a veterinarian.   An alpaca’s gestation period is 11 to 12 months, and the baby alpaca, called a cria, usually weighs between 15 and 20 pounds at birth.  The average lifespan for alpacas is about 18 to 20 years of age.

A curious herd of alpacas in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

A curious herd of alpacas (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

As for me, no matter how cute and cuddly the alpacas are, I’m well over my animal quota here at Howling Hills Farm.  Instead, I’m happy to visit a local farm, look into some beautiful eyes and stroke some fuzzy heads.  And, if I need any more than that, a cozy alpaca sweater awaits me in a nearby closet.

**If you’re in my area and looking for a warm and snuggly gift, please consider visiting: Bella Alpacas , or search for a local alpaca farm near you and reach out and touch one for yourself~

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A Garden for All