By Mary Heyl

Softer than a down pillow. More adorable than a teddy bear. Able to steal your heart in a single glance. Look! Out in the field! It’s a camel. It’s a llama. It’s an alpaca!

Yes, it’s an alpaca, member of the camelid family from another continent who came to the United States with luxuriously soft fleece and a personality far sweeter than that of other livestock.

Although it may be a stretch to compare an alpaca to the mighty Superman, no other animal has had quite the impact on Cattaraugus County tourism as the alpaca.

Alpacas are native to South America, where they have been raised for many years for their soft, warm, hypoallergenic fleece. Recent decades have seen a rise in alpaca farms all across the United States. There’s no better time to explore this growing agribusiness than this weekend, when alpaca farms throughout the country are opening their doors to the public for National Alpaca Farm Days on Sept. 26-27.

Throughout the weekend, alpaca farm owners will take visitors through their barns to meet the alpacas and feel for themselves the coveted fleece that makes such warm socks, sweaters, hats, and more. Visitors can learn all about the process of raising and breeding alpacas, and even meet the “crias” (baby alpacas) that were born this summer!

Taking place during the first official weekend of autumn, National Alpaca Farm Days offers a fun, new reason to get out and enjoy a beautiful drive with your family.

A Slice of Heaven Alpaca Farm and the Simply Natural Alpaca Gift Shop are located at 11144 Pope Road in Randolph. Meet owners Mike and Sue Bean, who will give you a tour through their barns to meet the herd, including the new cria named Magnum who was born last month. Enter to win an alpaca fleece teddy bear, alpaca slippers and an alpaca blanket (drawing to be held on Sunday). A Slice of Heaven Alpacas will be open Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.; all weekend they will be selling chili, cider and donuts to raise money for Randolph’s Community Cupboard.

BearKat Alpacas is located at 4685 Route 98 in Humphrey, less than a mile from Pumpkinville. Owners Bruce and Kathleen Rossette invite visitors to meet their three crias along with the rest of their herd. Those interested in starting a farm can meet the alpacas that are for sale for a package deal up to 70% off. Check out their gift shop for other great deals throughout the weekend! BearKat Alpacas will be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on both Saturday and Sunday.

Cozy Cabin Alpaca Farm located at 9254 Route 353 in Gowanda is eagerly anticipating National Alpaca Farm Days when their herd may expand just in time for the weekend festivities! Explore Cozy Cabin Alpaca Farm’s gift shop and enjoy coffee and donuts in the morning or hot dogs and refreshments in the afternoon. Don’t forget to enter Cozy Cabin’s drawing to win a pair of alpaca slippers and a scarf. Cozy Cabin Alpaca Farm will be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.

Mager Mountain Alpacas is located at 69 Mountain View Drive in Little Valley. Owners Paul and Sue Mager opened one of the first alpaca farms in the area: meet their herd of more than 20 alpacas and explore their So Soft Gift Shop throughout the weekend. Mager Mountain Alpacas will be open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.

Sugartown Farms owners Timm and Helen Herman, at 6277 Sugartown Rd. in Ellicottville, invite visitors to meet their herd of 55 alpacas, which will be available for viewing and petting all weekend from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Interested in starting an alpaca farm? Any herd member is available for sale! Remember to visit Sugartown Farm’s large gift shop and start your Christmas shopping now.

This weekend is the perfect time to learn all about the sweet, curious animal known as the alpaca during National Alpaca Farm Days. Find out what makes alpaca fleece hypoallergenic, what “pronking” means, and even how alpacas use a litter box! For more information about this fun nationwide event, visit www.NationalAlpacaFarmDays.com.