Having A Stressful Week? Try Some Alpaca Therapy
Noble Beast Farms, located in South Eastern Ontario‘s beautiful Prince Edward County, is home to a herd of about 90 alpacas. They are being raised not just for their quality fleece but also for their quirky, funny personalities.
In a world dominated by stress and disconnection, owners Nadia Knarr and Paul Bastiaanssen have found the answer to our problems: an afternoon spent with a few dozen fuzzy alpacas. The farm sells yarn and sustainable products made from the alpaca fleece but also runs small-group, immersive farm tours to share the joy alpacas bring.
Nadia spoke with me about her farm and the amazing animals she shares it with.
Alpacas Are A Special Breed
“They’re funny, they’re curious, they’re peaceful. They’re like walking stuffies in your yard,” Nadia says about her herd of alpacas.
Each one that lives on the farm has a name and a distinct disposition.
“Even when people come to visit for an afternoon, they get a sense very quickly that all of the alpacas have very unique personalities,” she says. “One will be pushy and one will be friendly and one is curious and one is kind of the boss. I think people connect with that really quickly.”
About half of the alpacas have come to the farm as rescues, some having outlived their previous owners, some coming from farms that were unable to care for them anymore. Many of these rescued or re-homed alpacas are old and Nadia’s farm is just the place for them to live out their days.
“Everyone wants to come retire in the County,” Nadia says with a laugh. “Alpacas too!”
Harvesting The Fibre
Anyone who has ever seen an alpaca with a full fuzzy coat will know just how fluffy they can get. It is these warm coats that make the alpaca such a valuable animal for production of fibre.
Nadia and Paul shear the alpacas themselves, usually over two weeks in May — after the cold has gone but before the heat of summer sets in. This also allows the alpacas time to regrow their warm, fuzzy coats before it gets cold again in November.
Some of the fibre is kept at the farm to sell to hand-spinners, but the majority gets sent off for processing.
“We get our fibre processed at a few small, family-run mills, mostly in Ontario and a few in the Maritimes,” Nadia says. The result is soft, beautiful yarn.
The most popular products sold at the online store (and, by appointment, at the farm store) are the yarn and the socks.
“Alpaca socks are a huge draw and very, very warm,” Nadia says, adding that they are especially popular with people who have to wear rubber boots a lot — such as farmers, fishers and hunters.
Field-To-Cloth: Sustainable Fibres
Sustainability is at the heart of what Noble Beast Farms is all about. One of the reasons the couple chose to work with alpacas on their property is because the animals are gentle on the land. Another reason is that they provide a sustainable fibre for making clothes.
“We are growing a useful, sustainable product that can replace some of those things in consumer culture that we tend to go through too quickly,” Nadia says. “Everyone knows farm-to-table and now we are taking that one step further and thinking about where our clothes come from, where the things we use come from. So alpacas really fit in for us that way.”
Field-to-cloth is a movement towards using sustainably raised fibre to create the clothes and materials we use in our daily lives.
‘One Alpaca Apart’: An Immersive Alpaca Experience
Nadia and Paul are not interested in having large groups of visitors feeding their alpacas through a fence as a form of entertainment. That is not good for the animals nor is it good for the visitors.
At Noble Beast Farms, tours are conducted in small groups and visitors are able to walk with and interact with the animals in a meaningful way. The immersive experience begins with a walk among the male alpacas and everyone gets a chance to connect. Then, after a short visit with the one resident horse and donkey, the group is taken to the mama and baby section where they can feed and play with the animals to their hearts’ content.
“We just watch them interact and play and jump and do all the silly things that baby alpacas do,” Nadia says.
The couple began offering this experience in 2019 and it has been a great way to enjoy the outdoors and destress during the covid pandemic. The farm was closed at times depending on health unit restrictions but as it is a small group, outdoor activity, it has been one of the safer ways for people to get away from their screens and connect in a more meaningful way.
Nadia is fond of telling people to stay “one alpaca apart” as the animals are about six feet long. “If you’re one alpaca apart, you’re good,” she says with a laugh.
Noble Beast Farms is located between Wellington and Bloomfield in Prince Edward County. Tours are winding down for 2021, but look out for new and exciting experiences coming in 2022. In the meantime, visit the online store to purchase alpaca products or adopt an adorable alpaca.