Arapaho Rose Alpaca Days
By Richard DuPertuis
Story and photos by Richard Dupertuis; Photo courtesy of Arapaho Rose Alpacas
IF LAST year’s head count is any indication, Arapaho Rose’s Alpaca Days is set to draw a massive crowd Sept. 28. Farm owner Karen Kelly says that after nearly 10 years of the annual, one-day opening of her pastures to the public, the 2018 surge in number of visitors took her by complete surprise.
“It could be there were more than 2,000 here,” she recalls in wonder. “I’m not that heavy an internet user, but people were telling me it was trending on Facebook. They were telling me I’ve gone viral.”
Arapaho Rose Alpaca Days is the local event for the National Alpaca Farm Days, held annually throughout the United States on the last weekend of June. Kelly opens her gates to a throng of visitors, many with young children in tow, who mingle with her alpaca herd in the pastures. As if in a large-scale petting zoo, kids can pet and feed these gentle, towering animals, under watchful eyes of volunteers who ensure that all contact between guests and residents is mutually copacetic.
Kelly says alpacas are herd animals, and cannot be treated like big fuzzy dogs. “Their personality is more cat-like,” she explains. “Today they want to be friendly, and tomorrow they might not want to have anything to do with you.” This could be observed in the petting pastures last year, as volunteers warned young visitors not to chase any alpaca that strode away from human contact.
They can be playful as cats, too, especially the young “boy” alpacas, as Kelly calls them, frolicking with other members of their herd. “They are gentle, but very powerful – that’s all muscle in there. They play fight with each other. They like to neck wrestle, sort of wind their necks around each others’,” she says, twisting her forearms together in example.
Of course, they weren’t neck wrestling with their visitors that day. Kelly’s alpacas granted the crowd a most gentle welcome. Those tolerant to the public stood and patiently took strokes from hands coming from every direction. Some of them settled to their bellies in the grass, low enough for children to lean against – but, no, not climb on – their bodies. Volunteers provided free alpaca food. All the while, scores of excited parents aimed cameras and cell phones.
Beyond the petting pastures, visitors took in talks, demos and kid’s crafts – all woven together with the theme alpaca. Under the guidance of the Frontier Girls, a half-dozen members of the scout-like youth program, children strung together bracelets of beads and alpaca yarn. Adults marveled over a line of looms and spinning wheels, where volunteers spun alpaca fiber into alpaca yarn and wove alpaca yarn into sheets of alpaca cloth.
Kelly says shearing four to six inches of fiber off alpacas does not harm them, and is actually a necessity given Redding’s climate. “You need to get it off them before it gets up into the 80s,” she explains. “It’s like wearing two overcoats, and they can get heat stroke just like we can.”
This long-time alpaca farmer can tell you which of three grades of fiber comes off what part of an alpaca’s body. And after sending a sample to a lab with an electronic microscope, she knows the diameters of the individual strands of her fiber, between 23 and 26 microns. “It’s a medullated fiber, which means it’s hollow,” she says. “It’s three to five times warmer than wool, which means I can have a much lighter garment and be just as warm.”
Visitors will find those garments for sale in the on-site boutique, along with purses, stuffed animals and many, many other things alpaca including, for the do-it-yourselfers, skeins of that hand-spun alpaca yarn. This is the only place at Arapaho Rose Alpacas where visitors will need money. Access to the grounds and activities is free. So is Kelly’s expert alpaca advice, although she asks those seeking it to schedule an appointment, because she has more than enough to do with hosting her share of National Alpaca Farm Days.
Kelly even receives calls for her expertise from other alpaca farmers. Recently one in Happy Valley reached out to her for help with an alpaca baby born prematurely, nine pounds instead of a healthy 12, and fading. “I told them to stimulate it, rub it with dry towels, use a blow dryer to warm it,” she recalls. It was born so early mama’s milk wasn’t yet in, so to deal with dangerously low blood sugar, she prescribed Karo syrup.
“It was kind of touch and go there for a while, but the baby is fine now and growing like a weed,” she says.
One important message she wants to deliver to people thinking about starting an alpaca farm is never let an alpaca forget what it is – a herd animal. “Some people want to buy one and feed it with a bottle, which is a huge red flag,” she warns. “A bottle baby does not treat you differently from a member of the herd.” So instead of teaching young alpacas to seek human contact for comfort, Kelly sets a boundary of personal space with hers.
Because an alpaca stands an average of three feet tall at the shoulder and can weigh up to nearly 200 pounds. Because, though gentle, they are very powerful animals – that’s all muscle in there. Because they like to play fight with other members of their herd.
They like to neck wrestle. •
Arapaho Rose Alpacas • 10702 Arapaho Drive, Redding
(530) 223-3364 • www.ArapahoRose.com