Warm up this winter with Wisconsin alpaca fiber
When you think of Wisconsin, you might think of dairy, cranberries, or cherries. Did you know Wisconsin is also home to a growing number of alpaca farms?
I was first introduced to London Dairy Alpaca Ranch at the 2022 Wisconsin State Fair when visiting the milk house with my father. After enjoying their all-new cherry chocolate milk, we spotted two alpacas – Abraham and Kon – out on their morning stroll. My face immediately lit up as I walked over to them, filled with excitement and questions for their caretakers. Little did I know, I would soon make four-legged friends that I would not only visit every morning of the State Fair, but also on the farm during Wisconsin Agricultural Tourism Week.
Upon first glance, I was blown away by how friendly Abraham and Kon were. They not only walked right up to me for treats and pets every morning, but they also remembered me over a month later. During my visit to the farm, I walked into their pasture and they both came running, along with 45 other alpacas that call Two Rivers home. They are very social animals, communicating with each other through both body positioning and gentle humming.
According to the Alpaca Owners Association, Alpacas are members of the Camelid Family that originated in North America more than 40 million years ago and were domesticated in South America. Camels and llamas are also familiar members of the Camelid Family. Despite being closely related, alpacas and llamas are quite different from each other. Alpacas are about half the size of llamas and are typically used for their soft fiber, while llamas are primarily used for packing or for guarding herds of sheep or alpacas. I was able to learn more about alpacas up close and person at London Dairy Alpaca Ranch earlier this fall.
Domesticated alpacas first came to North America in the 1980s and soon made their way to Wisconsin. Wisconsin ranks 11th on the Alpaca Registry hosted by the Alpaca Owners Association with 7,800 alpacas registered. Total registered animals for the U.S. is 265,000. According to the Great Lakes Alpaca Association, alpacas are earth friendly, resulting in their growing popularity. They eat a wide variety of native grasses and thrive on moderate amounts of water, making them adaptable to many environments. Eating only the top part of plants, alpacas do not pull forages out by the roots, allowing the plants to continue to grow.
Similar to sheep, alpacas are typically sheared once a year. However, their fiber is three times warmer and seven times stronger than sheep wool, which gives it a soft feel and sleek look. They naturally produce fibers in 22 colors, and alpaca goods are considered hypoallergenic. Each alpaca will produce three to ten pounds of fiber a year, which can then be woven to produce a variety of warm, soft, and sleek goods available all year long.
With a focus on education, London Dairy Alpacas hosts a variety of events during the year, including guided tours, open houses, and a gift shop with items perfect for all of your holiday shopping needs. From socks to blankets, dryer balls, stuffed animals, and hats, there is something for everyone on your list to enjoy. Leading up to the holiday season, London Dairy Alpaca Ranch will be open on Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. -3 p.m. Learn more at londondairyalpacas.com.
One of the most amazing parts of being Alice in Dairyland is being able to experience different parts of Wisconsin agriculture in a whole new way. Hearing right from the producers as they show me their passions is endlessly rewarding. Whether it is ginseng, potatoes, cattle, and now alpacas, I cannot wait to see what is next!
Taylor Schaefer is Wisconsin's 75th Alice in Dairyland