I’ve always loved llamas and alpacas. There’s just something about their quizzical faces, soft dense fiber, and quiet nature that I find calming and intriguing. We had friends in New Mexico who allowed us to help with their llamas and alpacas, even on shearing day. It was such a treat. So I was thrilled when I visited Family Day at the Iwig Dairy Farm and found my friend Claudia and her Ad Astra Alpacas.
Claudia invited us for a tour of Ad Astra Alpacas located at Claudia’s childhood home. What was a dairy farm, is now home to about fifty alpacas, a few cats, and Pepper, their dog.
We began our tour in the store, where Claudia explained how the alpaca fiber is sheared, and then combed so that all the fiber strands are going the same direction.
Once the fiber is combed, it creates bats. These are like clouds of softness.
Claudia has a special felting machine that uses hundreds of tiny hooked pins to pull bats together, creating alpaca felt.
The felt can be used to make hats, bags, and pet beds. Claudia has her own staff of pet bed testers, here hard at work.
Then there’s this amazing shawl. For this, two bats are placed perpendicular to each other and felted together. Then a delicate silk scarf is felted to the alpaca fiber. The result is a warm, soft alpaca shawl with silk scarf patterned on the outside.
We also saw the fiber before and after it was spun into yarn.
Claudia’s store has lots of handknit items. I picked up several pair of socks. I like wearing the socks and knowing the animals that help keep my feet warm and dry in any weather.
The boys were excited to see the alpacas. Animals that created such soft socks had to be special. Claudia led us outside to the girls paddock. (Female and male alpacas are kept separate once their are weaned.)
We were immediately greeted by the official “Welcome Lady”.
Following Claudia around the shed, we saw the rest of the “girls”.
Infant alpacas are called Cria. Claudia had two cria that were about three months old. Ad Astra is part of the Kansas state motto “Ad Astra Per Aspera” and translates, “To the Stars.” In honor of this, Claudia names all alpacas born on her farm after stars, constellations, and celestial events.
She carried over Aurora so the boys could pet her.
Claudia’s alpacas visit schools, senior centers, and even the local cafe. So they are used to having strangers around them, and seem to pose for young photographers.
They are also willing to have their necks and backs petted, which I loved. “Hands on science” had a whole new feel as I had each hand buried deep in the softness of this lovely lady’s back.
It was great for the boys to see and touch the alpacas while Claudia answered every possible question, like “What colors can alpacas be?” We only had to look around to see most of the colors possible.
If you’re interested in learning about alpacas, check out: http://www.alpacainfo.com/. You will probably find an alpaca farm near you that encourages visits. You’ll also find that alpacas are popular with homeschool families, so new friends could be just down the road.
Nancy Larson® Science