By Mary Heyl

Enjoy the first full weekend of autumn by exploring a local alpaca farm (or two!) during National Alpaca Farm Days on Saturday, Sept. 23 and Sunday, Sept. 24! Although any weekend is a great weekend to visit with these soft, gentle animals, National Alpaca Farm Days is unique in that it is a nation-wide event when alpaca farms all over the country will be opening their doors (or gates) to the public. Each year, the National Alpaca Owners Association designates the last full weekend in September as two jam-packed days of education, exploration and fun!

So, what exactly is an alpaca? Alpacas are part of the camel family, along with llamas, and share common traits, such as their long necks and soft fleece. Although many people confuse alpacas with llamas, the two are quite different, as llamas are nearly twice the size of alpacas. Interesting facts like these are exactly what National Alpaca Farm Days is all about: educating the public on these beautiful animals and the growing agribusiness of alpaca farms!

“We’ve been taking part in National Alpaca Farm Days for sixteen years now,” said owner Paul Mager, whose alpaca farm, Mager Mountain Alpacas, located at 69 Mountain View Drive in Little Valley, was the first to open in Cattaraugus County. “It could be even more exciting because we have a baby alpaca that is supposed to be born that weekend!” The Magers’ herd, which includes 24 alpacas and two llamas, will be ready to greet visitors from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday through Sunday during National Alpaca Farm Days.

Mager explained, “Our herd is unique in that they are very friendly with visitors, as most of our herd was born and raised right here on our farm, so they’ve always been used to visitors. Many alpacas can be shy and stand-offish, but ours are very people-friendly, and will let you pet them!”

Visiting alpaca farms is a great opportunity to meet the herds and to learn about what you can do with alpaca fiber! Of course, alpaca fleece can be spun into yarn, which is perfect for knitting or crocheting soft, warm accessories. But this yarn can also be used for weaving. Mager encourages visitors to check out the beautiful woven rugs that his wife, Sue Mager, has made with her loom using yarn made from her herd’s fleece!

Mike and Sue Bean, owners of A Slice of Heaven Alpacas and Simply Natural Alpaca Gift Shop, located at 11144 Pope Rd. in Randolph, encourage visitors to try alpaca fleece for the ultimate experience of warmth and durability. Unlike wool, alpaca fleece is hypoallergenic, so just about anyone can wear this ultra-warm fiber without experiencing the itch that sometimes accompanies wool or mohair. Throughout the weekend, the Beans will take visitors through their barns to pet the animals and demonstrate exactly which sections of fleece on the alpaca’s body are used for different types of clothing and yarn.

Owner Sue Bean is excited to demonstrate the felt loom that her farm acquired last year. This unique loom uses alpaca fleece and fabric to create unique, one-of-a-kind garments and gifts by binding the fleece to whatever material you like! A Slice of Heaven Alpacas will be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday. All weekend they will be selling chili, cider, and donuts to raise money for Randolph’s Community Cupboard. There will also be drawings for different alpaca gifts including an alpaca blanket, an alpaca teddy bear and more!

Due to the affordability and tax benefits of opening an alpaca farm, more and more families across the United States have begun their own alpaca farms. National Alpaca Farm Days is a great opportunity to learn about starting a farm of your own! For more information about this exciting weekend, visit http://www.alpacainfo.com/alpaca-farm-days.