For The Reflector
The soft, luxurious fiber alpacas produce is inspiring creativity at Serendipity Alpaca Ranch. The 5.5-acre ranch was created in 2009 by mother-daughter team Karen Rice and Pam Conrad in Ridgefield.
Their on-site store, filled with various alpaca-sourced products, is thoughtfully curated to be a wellspring of creative inspiration. Conrad and Rice hope to inspire visitors to attempt their own crafting projects, or to raise their own herd of alpacas.
Conrad and Rice’s venture into alpacas began after attending an auction. They were surprised to see the animals sold predominantly for their genetics rather than the quality of their wool fibers. Inspired, they decided to raise their own herd and produce their own fiber products.
“This is probably the easiest livestock I’ve ever taken care of. I just needed to get a small herd that had decent fiber,” Conrad said.
Conrad has kept a variety of farm animals, including horses. She has found alpacas to be particularly easy.
“They are livestock, and they do need care, but it’s not like a horse,” she said.
According to Conrad, alpacas can be socially satisfied with a herd of three and require a small amount of land. They eat little food and are economical livestock.
“For two alpacas, a 75-pound bale of hay will last them two weeks,” Conrad said. “A horse will be done with it in three days.”
To keep costs down and to increase the quality of her animals, Conrad provides preventative care to her herd. She keeps her herd healthy by regularly trimming their hooves, maintaining their teeth, testing for parasitic worms and giving them vitamin supplements. Additionally, she frequently sprinkles diatomaceous earth to prevent mites, a bothersome pest.
“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” Conrad said. “These kinds of things make a big difference.”
The ranch’s alpacas are sheared once a year. Then the fiber is collected and labeled with the name of the animal that produced them. Items made from their alpacas are available in their store.
Conrad and Rice believe alpaca fiber is an excellent material with many different uses. Compared to wool, it has a number of benefits.
According to Conrad, alpaca fibers lack the barbs that can make other animal-sourced materials, like wool, feel itchy. Additionally, the material is naturally antimicrobial and is warmer because of its insulating hollow fibers.
The store carries a variety of products, for both crafters and those seeking gifts. They also offer raw, unprocessed fiber for those interested in crafting an item from scratch.
Inside the store, crafters can find a myriad of different alpaca products produced at the ranch, or from across the country and Peru. Skeins of yarn in dozens of colors and thicknesses are available, some hand-dyed while others a natural shade. They offer bagged roving, which can be needle felted or hand-spun into yarn. Alpaca fiber batting is available as well, which can be used to insulate quilts.
Their store also sells clothing, felted soap and alpaca “beans,” which can be used as garden fertilizer. Their selection of gifts includes alpaca fiber scarves, gloves, hats, sweaters and dozens of different socks. They also have finger puppets and plush toys for children.
Conrad stocks the store with a variety of products, hoping to inspire visitors to try their own crafts. Though customers can buy pre-made products, like clothing and toys, the store carries the materials necessary to create their own.
“It’s a little bit of everything, so people can see things and think: I want to do that!” Conrad said.
Finding new uses for alpaca fiber is a vital part of Conrad’s work on the ranch.
“We’re always trying to find something new to share and show people,” Conrad said. “A lot of what we do is to give people ideas.”
Her recent venture into beekeeping showed her a new use for alpaca fiber. This fall, she is using fiber to fill her hives’ moisture board, which absorbs condensation and keeps the bees dry. Excited by her discovery, Conrad hopes to share the new use for alpaca fiber with the local beekeeping community.
“I want to reach out to the bee community and provide them fiber for their moisture boards,” Conrad said.
Creativity, and sharing it, are important to Conrad. She hopes to give others inspiration to craft while sharing her own creative discoveries.
“This is a very personal way for me to share and love people,” Conrad said. “For me, it’s about giving. If we’re to follow Jesus, we’re to give.”
Conrad and Rice encourage others to visit the farm and see the possibilities of alpaca fiber. They hope visitors can find a craft within their store that inspires them.
“My passion is to show our customers the purpose and importance of alpaca fiber,” Rice said.
“I want more people to play with this, and find what their little niche is,” Conrad added.