When I asked Deb Galway how she and her husband got started raising alpaca, her answer was surprising: They needed a lawnmower. They had just bought a small ranch in the English Hills neighborhood outside of Vacaville, CA–a neighborhood that apparently named for its rolling hills of grass–and Deb’s husband, understandably concerned about fire, was spending way too much time mowing their lawn. Deb wanted her husband doing other things around the ranch and so went in search of animals who could do the mowing for him.
Deb first tried sheep and goats. Her children raised the goats as 4-H projects, and, at one of these 4-H events, Deb met an alpaca breeder. Smarter than sheep, less mischievous than goats, these lawnmowers–er, ruminants–were a perfect fit for Deb. She’s been breeding them ever since and currently has about 36 animals. (That number may have gone up since our visit. There were a couple of pregnant mamas there at the time.)
Alpacas, and their cousin, the llama, are new world animals, originating in South America. Both are raised for their fiber, though alpaca tends to be finer. Apparently, today’s breeders are still trying to achieve the fine fleeces produced by the Incas and other indigenous people of South America before the Spanish arrived. At that time, there were vast herds of alpacas and llamas spread over much of the continent. Scientists analyzing pre-colonial alpacas and llamas found that these ancient animals had finer, more consistent fiber than is generally available today. Within a hundred years of Spanish conquest, however, the herds of alpacas and llamas had all but disappeared.
Deb and her husband are doing their part to raise alpaca with beautiful fleece. And results are amazing. Deb has several alpaca with true black fleeces–no dye required! They also come in amazing chestnut, fawn, silver, and white. All in all, there are 23 officially recognized colors for alpaca.
Other interesting alpaca facts shared by Deb:
- They have only bottom teeth (which you can see in some of these photos).
- They hum.
- Babies are called “cria.”
- During hot summer days, they line up at the water trough and take turns “kushing” in it (essentially plopping down in the water to cool off).
- Gestation is 11 months, and it takes three years for an alpaca to reach adult size. It is rare for an alpaca to have twins, and even rarer for twins to survive.
- They maintain their own personal poop piles. (TMI?)
- They love to rub their faces in the dirt.
- As cuddly as they look, alpaca like to maintain their distance and are most comfortable when there’s a fence between you and them. (Again, you can see this in the pictures!)
And now for the FAQs about Menagerie Hill Ranch:
- What fiber does Menagerie Hill Ranch produce? Alpaca.
- What products does Menagerie Hill Ranch sell? Alpaca, roving, yarn (spun at Mill Creek Fiber Works in Oakhurst, CA), socks, and pet beds.
- Where can I buy these products? On Menagerie Hill Ranch’s website or by calling Deb directly: 707.290.7915.