When you walk through the barn doors of Woodland Meadow Farm, your blood pressure drops.
At least that’s what happens to owner Elaine Gerber.
“Did your blood pressure go down as soon as you walked through the barn doors? What’s not to love?” she asked during a recent interview.
Besides the occasional crow of a rooster and the neighing of a horse, there’s the quiet sound of alpacas munching and playing. The farm is home to 58 Woodland Meadow alpacas and 26 that board on the farm. The females are kept in one large pen and the males in another on the Saratoga Springs farm, which lives up to its “Woodland Meadow” name and is the last property on a quiet "No Outlet" lane.
“Alpacas are very curious,” Gerber said.
One such alpaca, Cindy Lou, followed this Gazette reporter around throughout a recent interview with Gerber. The tawny alpaca nibbled at the reporter’s notebook, hoping for a treat.
While Cindy Lou stuck close to Gerber throughout the interview, others wandered up to her intermittently, sometimes giving her a loving nudge. One especially young alpaca named Coldplay, who weighed all of 20 pounds, was more cautious than the rest but was willing to follow his mother around wherever she went.
Each of the alpacas seemed to have its own personality and it’s one of the things that initially attracted her to the animals.
“What got me started was the Washington County Fiber Tour. I had a friend that wanted to go on it and I fell in love with alpacas,” Gerber said.
Thus, she and her husband Chuck started clearing the wooded land behind their Saratoga Springs home, which is tucked away on Bullard Lane.
“We cleared ten acres of woods. This is truly a labor of love because we have built this from the ground up,” Gerber said.
Their first alpacas arrived in 2011 and the farm has only grown since then.
Alpacas were first imported to the United States in 1984. With their inquisitive looks and their wild tuft hairstyles, they look like something from a Dr. Seuss book. According to Gerber, many people saw them as cute, huggable, and more as pets than as herd animals.
But that’s not quite right according to Gerber. While they are loveable, they’re also livestock.
In a city known for its equine industry, the alpaca farm sticks out. However, it’s part of Saratoga County’s agricultural community, which generates more than $500 million a year according to an agricultural index released by the Saratoga County Prosperity Partnership last year.
“The U.S. alpaca fiber market is a growing market, it’s a developing market,” Gerber said.
Their alpacas are sheared each year for their fiber, which usually goes to Battenkill Fibers or to local spinners at the New England Alpaca Fiber Pool. Gerber also uses it to make socks and gloves they sell on the farm.
The fiber, which can come in more than 20 natural colors, is as soft as more familiar fibers like cashmere and it can be used to make everything from toys to boots to sweaters and more.
The alpacas are all registered with the Alpaca Owners of America and are shown in competitions through the Alpaca Owners Association of America and Alpaca Owners Association. They had their first champion last year with Linnea, a petit rose gray alpaca.
“When you show them, you can’t wash them,” Gerber said. Judges are looking for crimps in the fiber and the density of the fiber. Thus, owners can’t do anything besides trim the top-knot on the alpacas’ heads.
Beyond showing and sheering, the alpacas are also selectively bred. According to Gerber, the farm is one of the largest alpaca breeding farms in the county.
Breeding often brings in thousands of dollars, depending on the alpaca’s bloodline and coloring.
At times, the alpacas are also used for their meat.
“In 1984, you would never consider eating alpaca meat,” Gerber said.
But things have changed since then and people are perhaps more curious than cautious about trying uncommon dishes. Last year, the farm partnered with The Brook Tavern to make an alpaca dish for The Taste of Wilton. The dish went on to win the Judge’s Choice award.
“It’s a necessary by-product of the fiber business,” Gerber said.
The alpacas aren’t purchased or bred with the intent to use them for meat and it remains a small part of the business.
One aspect of the farm Gerber hopes to grow is sharing what life is like on a working alpaca farm. Visitors often come from AIM Services and Saratoga Bridges to tour the farm and greet the alpacas.
People can also schedule farm tours to see what it’s like on the farm and to meet some of the curious alpacas like Cindy Lou, who just might be at the Schuylerville Fall Festival on Sunday, Oct. 20.
Two alpacas will be there representing Woodland Meadow Farm. Gerber will also bring along some of the farm’s fiber products.
For more info on the farm or to schedule a farm tour visit wmfalpaca.com.
Schuylerville Fall Festival
WHEN: 11 a.m. - 5 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 20
WHERE: Broad and Ferry Streets in the Village of Schuylerville
WHAT: Attendees can meet local artisans, food vendors and small business owners while enjoying live music. There will be a scavenger hunt available at all participating businesses. The hunt ends at the Schuylerville Public Library, where fall-inspired activities will be featured. Attendees who complete the scavenger hunt can be entered to a small business raffle for a chance to win Schuylerville Small Business Gift Certificates.