It was a cool and somewhat drizzly day recently when Dan and Shauna Anderson and a small group of friends gathered at their small farm on Mahanna Road in Bemus Point for Shearing Day. This annual event occurs each May at Alpacaville, as the Anderson’s continue a tradition that was started many years ago by their friend Evelyn Brumwell, a now-retired Alpaca farmer who currently lives in West Virginia. Ms. Brumwell is the connecting link between the Anderson, Eichelberger and Lynch families, who all became involved with raising Alpaca through her farm in Dewittville, NY.
Shearing day is not only a time for them to get together for the necessary task of taking care of their respective herds, but it is also an opportunity for them to share their common interest and a community meal once the hard work is done. Other friends, who are Alpaca lovers (or have strong backs) come along to join in on the fun and the work of the day, preparing the animals for the hot summer ahead by removing the fleece that they have grown over the past 12 months. The fleece, which is warmer than wool, is soft and contains no lanolin, is then gathered by the families to store for personal use or sell to others to make a wide variety of fiber products.
Each of the families began raising Alpaca’s for different reasons, but they all maintain that it is a labor of love. They explained that the animals are fairly easy to take care of and require less physical labor than many other types of livestock.
“They are more like family pets.” said Pat Lynch, whose farm is located just outside of Mayville. Karen Eichelberger of Dewittville agreed, saying “I really enjoy my ‘boys’. They give me a focus and purpose in my life. I don’t mind taking care of them at all.”
Although the social aspect of shearing day is fun and friendly, the actual process requires a strong team that is ready to work hard. The Anderson’s contract with Alley Pac, a shearing service based in Fort Collins, Co., to come for the day and do the shearing, with the assistance of the Andersons and their friends.
Luke Loffhagen, of Alley Pac and his assistant Ryan arrived early in the day to set up their stations in Alpacaville’s barn, while the other families arrived with their animals. The owners, their families and their friends work as handlers, bringing the animals to the station one by one to be sheared, clipped, and sent on their way. While the animals did not really seem to enjoy the process, and even express their dismay quite vocally at times, Loffhagen explained that the shearing does not hurt the animals.
“We make sure that the handlers are instructed as to how to properly secure, hold and release the animals so that they are safe and unharmed.” said Loffhagen, whose father Mark has developed a patented system that helps to keep the animals steady while the shearer completes the job. “We often do as many as 40-50 animals a day, it is a pretty streamlined process.”
The Shearing Day event at Alpacaville this year included 18 animals. The entire process took about 3.5 hours, with the help of their small crew. When all the animals were finished, the workers gathered on the deck of the Anderson’s home to take a much-needed break and enjoy the pot-luck meal.
“We look forward to this day with anticipation both good and bad. We love to have everyone here with their animals, but it is a lot of hard work!” said Dan Anderson. “In the end, we consider its a job well done, and a good experience to share with our friends and neighbors.”
Alpacaville is open to the public Thursdays from 5 to 8pm and Saturdays and Sundays from 2pm to 5pm. The public is invited to visit, free of charge to tour the farm, which also includes pigs and chickens. Visitors are often invited to feed and interact with the animals. Alpacaville also has a small retail store that carries items made with Alpaca fleece.
The Andersons also offer private tours by appointment to small groups, such as schools, clubs, or retirement facilities. Small group tours can be tailored specifically to the needs of each group. Children’s programs can also include a short program on topics like bullying and self-esteem, using some of the farms animals as examples.
Shauna Anderson became interested in the therapeutic use of the animals through her work at CHPC and now also holds a certificate in Animal Assisted Therapy, Activities, and Interventions from the University of Denver.
“We started the farm because we love living in the country and raising animals. We decided on Alpaca’s because they require less land and less maintenance than other, larger animals. When we realized how calming and energizing our daily interactions with the animals were to us, we decided to invite others to visit.” She says. “There is a strong body of research that validates the healing effect of the human/animal bond. It is really evident in the interactions that we see here on the farm. We really enjoy helping some of our visitors to relax and come out of their shells when they interact with the animals. It is very rewarding.”