Rhonda Henning was a fabulous ambassador of alpacas when my son Joe, granddaughter Cora and I visited her magical farm in Enosburg, Vermont, last week. Rhonda and her husband own North of the Andes Alpaca Farm, and are part of a cooperative called Mountain Fiber Folk.
The beautiful farmstead was tucked into a forest off a gravel road. Of course two-and-a-half-year-old Cora had little experience with alpacas, so she was surprised at the 18 newly-shorn animals with impossibly thin necks, but Joe and I knew little of the animals before our visit, either. For being a weaver and a fan of all things fiber, it’s embarrassing to admit that Joe and I had to look up information before we visited–what is the difference between a llama and an alpaca? (The short generalization: llamas are much bigger and not as nice.)
We started with a visit to the alpacas in the barn. The three males were penned on one side; all the females were on the other side (along with a young male not quite ready to move to the boy area). At one point Rhonda mentioned that people might buy a male to have as a pet or on a farm with other animals. “Oh, they’re more desirable?” I asked. No, it’s because females, who can reproduce, cost a lot more–from $500 to $1200–while you might get a male for $200 to $300.
After the alpacas are shorn each spring, Rhonda sends the fleeces away to be cleaned. She then dyes the fleece and makes beautiful multi-colored batts for spinning. She displays them in cake boxes, as tempting to a fiber person as chocolate. The batting works well for felting, too; she showed us a still-damp scarf she finished that morning.
We finished our visit back at the barn. Rhonda got out the hose, and that got all of the alpacas out of the barn in a rush–they love to be sprayed with water. Cora had been a bit leery of the animals when we were in the barn the first time, but relaxed as she watched them frolic. Later that evening she looked up from her play-dough and said, “I like those puppies.” It’s a p-word; I imagine that it might be hard to remember the word alpaca when you are two.
Many thanks to Rhonda for a great afternoon outing!