August 25, 2018

Photo Essay: To Know An Alpaca Is To Love An Alpaca

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I love animals, but I don't love all animals equally. I feel like I should, but I don't.

I've already established that I'm a crazy cat lady and that I go gaga for goats and cuckoo for camels—but I also go bonkers for baby alpacas.

Oh, let's face it, I lose it for pretty much any alpaca.

I'd previously encountered them at Malibu Wine Safaris, Wildlife Waystation, and maybe another sanctuary or zoo or two—but in my deepening alpaca adventures, I'd found it much better to get the full immersive experience at a dedicated alpaca farm or ranch like Sweet Water Alpaca Ranch or Alpacas at Windy Hill.

I knew there must be more alpaca ranches around SoCal to visit, but I hadn't focused on crossing them off my list.

And then, I had the opportunity to write about them for KCET, an assignment that sent me on three more alpaca adventures.

I've already written about one of them here: William S. Hart Park, which includes five alpacas in its barnyard, though that's not necessarily the focus of the place (or of my piece).

And since the nature of my articles for KCET's SoCal Wanderer column doesn't allow enough room to publish all the good photos I submit from any given place, I frequently use my blog to fill in the gaps.

After all, every story has a story behind it. 

I almost didn't get to go to The Alpaca Hacienda at all, given my lack of transportation over the last month (that's a whole other story) and the wildfire that had been raging just off the 15 freeway, which we'd have to drive right past (though fortunately not exactly through).

And that would've been a real shame, because The Alpaca Hacienda in Temecula is a really magical place.

Of course, I already loved Temecula and have frequently fantasized about moving there.

But what Beth Osborne has done with her sprawling, hillside ranch and her herd of fluffy animals is really a dream come true.

Her story is a familiar one to me and most of my friends of a certain age—at some point, you wonder whether this (whatever "this" is) is really what you want to be doing for the rest of your life.

Isn't there something more? Or better?

Yes, there is. There are alpacas.

Raising alpacas on a ranch in Riverside County isn't an easy life, per se.

There are feedings and shearings and breedings and birthings. And in a climate with hot days and potentially cold nights, anything could go wrong at any time.

But you get to look at those sweet faces every day.

And if you've got the right snack, they'll eat right out of your hand, using their lips to grab whatever pellet or feed you've got in your outstretched palm.

They've only got four bottom teeth, which get filed down yearly, so there's not much risk of getting nibbled.

And because each alpaca has its own personality—like goats, cats, and dogs, they're incredibly individualistic—one of them might not want to eat out of your hand but will be perfectly happy to let you watch him feed out of a trough.

At The Alpaca Hacienda, the animals are used for their fiber, which is either sent out for spinning into yarn or felting or spun right there on site. At Canzelle Alpacas in Carpinteria, however, these camelids are bred to be prize-winning, ribbon-wearing beauty queens and breed stock.

Though it’s literally three quarters of a mile away from the 101, it couldn’t feel farther from civilization. Located in the foothills of Los Padres National Forest in Carpinteria, over 50 alpacas reside on the 20 acres here.

Since you can actually get into the enclosures of the two different female herds, there’s nothing separating you from being mobbed by hungry alpacas all at once while you clutch a fistful of baby carrots.

It can get a little intense.

But I found the shy ones...

...the cautiously inquisitive ones...

...and the ones that let me pet them on the neck and scratch into the lower part of their head locks.

And when I headed over to the other herd of ladies, lazing in the shade...

...I managed to not get spat on (though one of the girls was not so lucky, as evidenced by her hanging lower lip)...

...despite being up close and face-to-face with these magnificent creatures.

At Canzelle, I was able to literally wrap my arms around and nuzzle right up into the furry cheeks of some of the alpacas...

...and I was lucky enough to encounter one of the kissy ones, too.

For me, that was enough to find myself falling in alpaca-love.

Then again, I've always fallen in love too easily. I'm too good at loving the one I'm with.

And I'm rarely with the same alpaca twice.

One day, maybe I'll have a herd of my own. That's the dream: a tiny house, with lots of land for livestock to roam.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: A Ranch of Sweet Alpacas
The Threshold of Fright and Flight: Lessons From An Alpaca

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