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Visiting the alpacas at North Woods Farm

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Alpaca
By Rachel Richardson
Produced in cooperation with the HubCity Writers Project.

Peru and Inman, South Carolina, would not seem to share much in common. One is a mountainous country in South America, and the other is town in the Upstate. One is home to the ancient Incan site Macchu Picchu and the other isn’t. Both, however, support an entirely singular creature known to travel in herds and renowned worldwide for their fluffy fur.

If you guessed chinchilla, you’re thinking too small, though you’d be on the nose as far as adorableness. I’m talking, of course, about the underestimated and illustrious alpaca.

For the uninitiated, an alpaca is an animal not quite exotic enough for a zoo but far too big for a pet. In the same family as deer and camels, the alpaca resembles a llama most of all, though, as a quick Google search has just informed me, llamas have banana-shaped ears while alpacas’ are smaller and pointier.

There’s lots more factual information to be found on the FAQ section of North Woods Farm’s web page. For instance, did you know an alpaca is a ruminant, meaning they chew cud like cows? Or that a baby alpaca is called a cria, and that females are Henchas and males, Machos? The final question is both an obvious and necessary one: Are alpacas dangerous? The answer is not at all, which becomes immediately apparent when visiting North Woods Farm.

Simply getting to North Woods Farms might be half the fun. The drive from Spartanburg’s metro is pleasant and ambling, and, on the day I went, almost unbearably bucolic. In addition to forests and creeks, the topography around North Woods Farm is hilly with grassy fields. Maybe not as mountainous as Peru, since the farm is situated in the foothills of the Blue Ridge and not the Andes, but you couldn’t ask for nicer vistas, especially if you’re an alpaca.

Founded in 2006 by alpaca enthusiasts Terri and Larry Gabric, the farm is now under new ownership. Melanie Huettig and her husband, Nathan, relocated from Indiana to the farm, where they live with their children and a friendly dog named Cinder. The yarn shop once housed in the farm’s main building has relocated to Campobello, but Melanie still processes the alpaca fibers with the original equipment. She was kind enough to give me a tour of the machinery, which looks fairly intimidating but ultimately performs fairly simple functions.

Raw fibers, fresh from the alpaca’s body, are sorted and cleaned. Once the fibers have been washed and detangled, they are taken through a process called carding. The carding machine individually separates the fibers from each other, aligns the fibers parallel and converts the random mass of fiber into a continuous web. These fibers are formed into either “batts” for felt-making or “slivers” for roving and spinning. The slivers are then spun into yarn.

In short: if you’ve got a denuded alpaca and a pile of fibers, Melanie can help you out. In even shorter: you shear it, she’ll yarn it.

As for the dangerous nature of alpacas? It was fairly obvious as soon as I drove in that Cinder, the dog, was a bigger threat than any of the alpacas (if I was at all threatened by the dog’s inexplicable exuberance to see me). The alpacas were more than a little standoffish, though whether they were afraid of me or just deemed me unworthy of their attentions, I can’t say.

The farm has twenty alpacas currently, ranging from gold to fawn to brown to black. They are all Huacaya alpacas so their coats are fuzzy and fleecy, rather than the Suri alpaca whose coat comes in with a natural crimp.

None of the twenty wanted anything to do with me. Despite an extended amount of time foisting grass towards them, I did not actually touch an alpaca. Cinder, the dog, did attempt to negotiate some inter-species dialogue, as the alpacas were used to her, she was friendly towards me, and ergo I should have been able to pet an alpaca. No dice. I settled for Cinder instead, who was appreciative, and admired the loveable and bizarre creatures from afar.

A quick jaunt to North Woods Farms is a great afternoon outing. Call ahead if you’d like to see the machinery, but if you’re just interested in the alpacas, drive on up and pretend you’re in Peru.

If you’re more interested in working with the finished product, the yarn store formerly housed at North Woods Farm is now the Palmetto Yarn Shoppe. The new store is in a cozy house at 221 North Main Street in Campobello, open Thursday through Sunday. Thursday hours are 10 am to 8 pm, Friday and Saturday 10 am to 5 pm, and Sunday afternoons from 1 to 4. The Palmetto Yarn Shoppe offers crafting classes and a wide variety of yarns, as well as knitting and crocheting accessories. Got a grandma who knits but don’t know whether she needs new needles or a new hook? They also offer gift cards.

North Woods Farm is at 829 Sloan Road, Inman, SC. Visit their website at www.northwoodsfarm.com for phone numbers and hours.


Rachel Richardson

Rachel Richardson, Produced in cooperation with the HubCity Writers Project.

Rachel Richardson was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She has lived in central New York, coastal Carolina, and Austria but now calls Spartanburg home. She is an aspiring writer, dog enthusiast, and Administrative Assistant at Hub City Writers Project.

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