A weekly column by Catherine Dugan. This week: Visit the Alpacas at Bay Springs Farm
There’s nothing regal about an alpaca. Though their fibers make textiles fit for a queen, their antics suggest a court jester more than monarch. These natural comedians frolic in the field, make funny noises and display distinct personalities. It’s no wonder the people at Bay Springs Farm advertise them as natural stress-relievers.
Alpacas are native to South America, where they were domesticated about 6,000 years ago. There are two types of alpacas – the Huacaya and the Suri. They weigh between 120 and 170 pounds when fully grown, live about 20 years, and are considered very tidy animals. The herd even designates a toilet area, which the females tend to visit together – probably to gossip about the males. Although they are generally quiet, they honk, hum and squawk when they are nervous. They can also spit, so don’t crowd them – stand back and laugh at them.
Alpacas are smaller than llamas, limiting their use as beasts of burden, but their warm, lightweight fleece made them vital to the native cultures of South America. Traditionally, the fleece was dyed to make colorful cloth, but even undyed yarn yields beautiful products. Before the 19th century, alpaca fiber and the soft, luxurious cloth it produces were reserved for royalty. By the Victorian age, alpacas had been discovered by textile manufacturers like Sir Titus Salt in Bradford, England, and the material became more widely available. If it had been less expensive, perhaps Victorian swimmers would have replaced their woolen swimming costumes with alpaca suits.
Unlike wool, alpaca fiber contains no lanolin and is hypoallergenic. It is also naturally fire-resistant and water-repellent. Fashionistas in the United States have long been wearing alpaca, but the animals were not imported into this country until 1984. Now there are alpaca farms across the nation, including Bay Springs Farm, located on New England Road in Cape May.
The farm is tucked back at the end of a long driveway. Park beside the house and visit the alpacas in the back before heading inside for some shopping. Holiday shoppers will find unique items, made more inviting by the crisp autumn weather. It’s hard to resist the mittens and scarves, the cozy blankets, and the non-chafing dress socks – perfect for the man who has everything. The soft fiber makes the baby products irresistible – tiny teddy bears and hats will make any baby smile. Knitters beware – the assortment of gorgeous yarns may bust your budget.
Get some giggles, and some presents – visit the alpacas.
Next week: Take a Road Trip to Atlantic City