That’s the best collective noun I could come up with … a delight of alpacas. Oh my! We are all on such a high after a truly splendid day at Pitchingga Ridge Alpaca Farm with the lovely Jean and Dave Daddo.
We packed a picnic, collected Sammy – a take-along friend for Abby, and drove down the Mornington Peninsula – nice enough but fairly suburban – until you hit Red Hill. Be still my beating heart!
This is a gorgeous corner of Victoria and one you should definitely visit. The roads curl up hill and down dale, and the minute you turn off the main roads (small main roads by city standards), the roads turn to red dirt floored tunnels with huge beautiful trees arching overhead. There are vineyards and apple orchards and strawberry farms everywhere.
And when you bump along one such track, tumble down into a gully, and then climb back up and around a bend – there are dear, sweet alpacas, standing around calmly amongst the trees, their eyes alert and curious, checking you out as you venture up the long drive.
Jean and Dave gave us over three hours of their time. They are alpaca farmers with a love for their animals and a passion for sharing their knowledge and experience. All I did was call them on Friday, ask if we could visit to look at their fleece and they opened their home and farm to us.
We started in the home paddock where the new mums are living with their babies. Most of them were sturdy toddlers, cheerfully bouncing about whilst their mums calmly grazed.
But in the high corner, was freshly born little Cascade, one day old, making the most of a patch of sun whilst her mum grazed nearby, keeping a watchful eye on her babe. The minute we quietly moved through the gate, mum strolled over, warning us with gentle, gravelly moans to behave ourselves. We did :-) A cold and blustery change was moving in and Jean wanted to pop a little fleecy lined, weather proofed coat on Cascade.
Before long, she was filling up. Jean outlined the physiology of alpacas’ udders and teats – they are very small, with four teats – only just big enough to feed their offspring but not productive enough to milk for our consumption. Jean declares she would get only a few mils if she tried. Abby was a little disappointed – she had hoped there was good alpaca dairying opportunities.
Jean also clipped off some branches of tree lucerne for the girls to feed the mums. They grow it in a lovely long hedge, surrounded by chicken wire … the branches grow through the holes and the alpacas are able to graze to their hearts’ content without damaging the tree.
The babies thought they might like a try too – and some had a few nibbles – but they were mostly still exclusively breastfed. They usually feed for about six months. But some of the older ones were a bit cheeky and Abby ended up losing her branch – someone ran off with it.
After a lovely long visit with the animals, Jean and I headed to the fleece shed, whilst Dave, Julian, the girls, and Abby the gorgeous kelpie visited more paddocks.
Ooooh, there were so many lovely fleeces to inspect and choose from. Look at that lovely smile on Jean’s face. We had such a marvellous time. Out came bags full of white, grey, dark brown, black … and this exquisite one. It’s Yuki’s – the farm’s only apaloosa alpaca! Here he is …
Isn’t he a cutie! Looks like he’s in leg warmers :-)
I couldn’t resist and am now the excited owner of a kilo of Yuki’s second fleece – a jumper for Abby and hopefully enough left over for a hat for Sammy. Jean, a long timer spinner, tells me you don’t make rolags like you do with sheeps fleece- you just spin straight from the unwashed fleece, removing the stray bits of grass as you go. Yuki’s fleece is so soft … just pulling it gently apart is so enticing. I cannot wait to get spinning. I also bought half a kilo of Summer Haze’s grey fleece – perhaps a lovely shawl for me.
As the afternoon grew colder, we all trooped inside for hot tea and chocolate chip cookies around the kitchen table. Dave and Jean brought out lovely blankets and coats to show us how their wool stitches up. They were so fine, soft and light. So much lighter than wool.
We sat around chatting about how marvellous it would be if we had the processing, spinning and weaving manufacturing facilities here in Australia. My – it is such a shame that we are letting skills like this slip through our fingers and sail off overseas. We produce such beautiful wool from our sheep and alpacas – it is heartbreaking that we don’t make the most of it here!
And we chatted about how we Boots could start building our own wee herd with the Daddo’s help. Oooooh now that would be sooooo lovely.