SHEGUIANDAH—There is nothing quite like slipping your feet into the comfort of a pair of alpaca wool socks, but before anyone can get to knitting those tootsie pampering wonders, there is a lot of work to be done harvesting and preparing the alpaca fleece.
Late last month, more than a dozen skilled workers set up shop in the barns at Richard Lathwell’s Lobo Loco Alpaca Farm, shepherding the odd-looking beasts into the pens to be cleaned, comforted and shorn of their coats.
The highly prized midriff fleece is gathered up to be sent away for processing and the yarn eventually knitted into the aforementioned footwear, some other body fleece will end up as part of local gardens. Both alpaca fleece and manure work wonders in keeping deer out of gardens both flower and vegetable (attention Gore Bay gardeners).
As they are somewhat distracted by getting their spring trim on the shearing table, the alpacas are also treated to a pedicure and whatever shots for which they are due. The whole process takes a very short time, with a comforting hand and whispers calming the animals as they undergo their spring rite of passage.
Lobo Loco also enjoys llamas amongst its crew, but they will not be getting their haircuts this year. “We only shear them every other year,” explains Mr. Lathwell. So Hercules and company will be sitting this one out.
Alpaca fleece is a natural fiber that is either light or heavy in weight, depending on how it is spun. Soft, durable, luxurious and silky, it is similar to sheep’s wool, but warmer and not prickly. Alpaca fleece is also has no lanolin, which helps to give it the added bonus of being hypoallergenic. Even without lanolin, alpaca fleece is still naturally water-repellent and difficult to ignite.
A wide range of products created with the alpaca yarn are available from Lobo Loco, either at the farm where visitors are welcome by appointment or by chance, at local Island farmers’ markets where Mr. Lathwell and company can often be found, or online.
Alpaca manure, another product of the farm, contains many benefits beyond the aforementioned deer repellent quality. It improves the soil quality, retains water, provides a fair amount of nitrogen, potassium and phosphate, does not need to be composted before use and you can spread it safely without worrying about “burning” the plants. While the manure generally does not contain seeds, Mr. Lathwell cautions that the manure is mixed with hay bedding that may contain hayseeds. Alpaca manure breaks down swiftly, delivering its goodness to the soil quickly.
The Lobo Loco website can be found at lobolocoalpacas.com and the company also has a Facebook page.