Florida might not seem like the right place to have an alpaca farm; it’s hot, humid, and full of bugs, whereas alpacas are cold-weather animals from thin-aired mountaintops, without long tails to flick away pesky insects. Florida alpacas usually have lice burrowing in their thick fur, because the winters aren’t cold enough to kill the mites off.
So why would anyone have an alpaca farm in such as seemingly unsuitable climate? It’s actually not that uncommon, and for a simple reason: people like living where it’s warm. Sure, it takes more work to keep one’s herd happy and healthy, but it’s certainly do-able. There are sprays and ointments for repelling and killing insects, and the particular alpaca breeder we visited kept fans and water running in the summer and on hotter “winter” days (typically about 80 degrees). The alpacas get used to their climate fairly well, too, and after a while they need a coat of shaggy fur to keep warm in the “chilly” December nights we’re experiencing here now (again, it’s currently 75, with 89% humidity). So maybe it’s not so crazy to keep the animals after all… especially considering the heavenly fuzziness of an alpaca’s fleece.
We headed over to LunaSea Alpaca Farm a few days ago, accompanied by many of the RVing families currently staying in Orlando. After examining the store and hugging alpaca-fleece teddy bears again and again (you can’t even imagine how wonderful they felt), we split into two groups; us older kids in one, and younger kids in the other. My group headed off to a shelter where the alpacas and one llama lived and hid from the sun, and started to admire the interesting creatures as King, the breeder of these alpacas, told us about them.
You might not know the difference between a llama and an alpaca, but it’s really rather simple, and it won’t take me long to tell. A llama is far larger than an alpaca, for one thing, and also braver. They act as “guard dogs,” which is why they’re almost always kept on alpaca farms: to protect their timid cousins. A llama would attack a coyote if it roamed into its territory, and though Rose, the llama who lives at LunaSea, has never had to do anything quite so drastic as that, she did once find a ten-foot alligator.
We fed some of the young alpacas, and I played with my special favorite, an adorable brown suri named Topaz. Of course, I haven’t yet said anything about the different kinds of alpacas. They vary only in their fleece type, suris having dreadlocks without being matted, while huacayas are covered in a fluffier, airier stuff. It’s true that a huacaya is softer than a suri, but I prefer the latter for the cosmetic aspect.
After visiting the babies, we went off to the pen which contained Midas, a five-time Judges’ Choice champion. He was a brown suri, and wouldn’t let anyone touch or feed him; the adult males are a lot less trusting than the babies and females. After hanging around with Midas and some others, we headed home. I was exhausted, but it had been a great experience, and I’d learned a lot.
Header image: Midas, the prize-winner. Photo credit: the Mace family.