What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think about a farm? Great big fields of wheat? Cows, pigs, and chickens? Old MacDonald? How about alpacas? That last one’s probably not the case, but it could be before too long. There are over one hundred thousand registered alpacas in North America, and I was lucky enough to speak with one of the awesome folks raising alpacas in Michigan.
Tamara Miller owns and operates Via Verde Farm in Ada. When I found out, I had a lot of questions. Before now, I didn’t know much about alpacas other than that they’re native to the Andes Mountains, but Tamara was kind enough to answer every query I threw at her.
Brian: So how did Via Verde come to be?
Tamara: Via Verde Farm was established in 2008 after my husband and I visited an alpaca farm and fell in love with these gentle animals. We wanted to move to a farm and change our lifestyle. We realized that alpacas would best fit our farm.
B: Do you do anything besides breeding alpacas?
T: Breeding alpacas is one aspect of my farm. Alpacas come in 22 natural colors and I focus on breeding grays with fiber softness. I also show my animals for the quality of their fiber and for their confirmation. The other aspect of my farm is processing their fiber. Because alpacas are fiber animals, they need to be shorn once a year. I have their fiber processed into “roving,” strips of fiber, for hand-spinners to spin into yarn. I also spin my own yarn on my spinning wheel.
I opened an onsite farm store and boutique in October, 2012. I sell my roving, hand spun yarn, and finished products such as sweaters, scarves, mittens, hats, and gloves. Some of the products I make from my alpaca fiber are carpets. I use only natural colors and have them woven into different designs. Each carpet is unique and exhibits the natural beauty of alpaca fiber. I am in the process of adding an online store. This will allow customers to have better access to high-quality alpaca products.
B: What exactly drew you to raising alpacas?
T: What’s not to like about an alpaca? They are the perfect livestock for the busy farmer. They are relatively low-maintenance and gentle in nature. While they have different needs than traditional livestock, it is not a complicated or difficult animal to raise.
B: Is there any kind of trick to raising alpacas? Anything unusual about the process or experience?
T: Alpacas must be shorn every year because they can get heat stroke in the summer. The summer in Michigan is much hotter than summer in the Andes Mountains, where alpacas originate from. I usually keep fans on my alpacas in the hot, sticky weather to keep them cool and comfortable. I will also spray their legs and belly with the water hose to cool them down. They crowd around the hose and roll in the mud to cool off when I do that. It’s quite a funny sight! They also have an unusual trait of humming. It is their way of expressing anxiety, hunger, or other emotions.
B: How do people usually react when you tell them you raise alpacas?
T: When I mention that I raise alpacas most people are really interested. They ask many questions and request to come out for a farm tour. I am always ready to teach people about the amazing qualities of alpacas, so I don’t mind the questions!
B: How many alpacas are there in Michigan?
T: Alpacas are often referrred to as an exotic livestock. While this may have been true 15 years ago, alpaca farming is becoming more mainstream. There are approximately 8,100 alpacas registered in Michigan with the Alpaca Owners and Breeders Association, our national organization. There are about 200 alpaca farms in Michigan and we have the Michigan Livestock and Products Commerce Association, an affiliate of the national organization, which promotes the livestock in our state. I am currently secretary of this organization and am working with our board members to market and increase awareness of alpaca farming.
For more information about Via Verde Farm or to schedule a tour, you can contact Tamara at her website. Whether you’re interested in farming yourself, or just learning more about these awesome animals, it’s well worth the trip to Ada. If you ask me, it’s worth it just to see these adorable critters in person.