This was my second visit to Old Homestead Alpacas, being enticed to return by notices for their Open Barn event last Saturday. The fact is, I was so impressed at my first visit in May during a Learning on the Land event by Blue Mountain Land Trust, that I welcomed the public invitation to see what's new on the farm.
And there he was, Mario Andretti, the first cria (the correct term for alpaca babies) of the season, who was a day shy of being a week old.
Mario was never more than a few inches away from his mother Indy.
Also new to me from my previous visit was the newly sheared herd seen here with the shearing marks still faintly visible.
As you can see by the photos above and below, the leg fibres are left in tact on Suri Alpacas, which is the kind raised at Old Homestead Alpacas.
As I learned from my first visit, the leg fur is not valued as a yarn fibre, and so it is allowed to remain.
Over time it sheds naturally or may be trimmed, but as a rule it is not harvested for its fur-to-fibre-to-yarn potential.
For Saturday's Open Barn, all the female alpacas were together in the Maternity Ward where visitors were allowed to walk among the animals.
Indy was the first of several females still waiting to give birth in the next weeks or months.
Upon signing the guest book, visitors were given a baggie of feed to offer the curious and hungry alpacas,
much to the delight of (most) of the children and adults.
While most children waited hesitantly for the Alpacas to approach them, this young cowboy walked alone among the herd, even getting within an arm's reach of new mama Indy and her cria, Mario.
So what does one do with the alpaca fleece once the animals are sheared? For shepherdess Elaine Vandiver, it's just the beginning of the yarn-making process which results in hand-dyed skeins of yarn which she sells or uses herself to knit into exquisitely fine and soft scarves and shawls which she sells in her farm store or online at http://www.oldhomesteadalpacas.com/
The Homegrown by Heroes sign reflects Old Homestead Alpacas' membership in the Farmer Veterans Coalition, a non-profit organization supporting, encouraging, mentoring and inspiring agricultural and ranching careers for returning service men and women.
The fact that both Elaine and Mike are military veterans with Mike still serving in the Washington Army National Guard is another part of this couple's amazing story.
And if raising and maintaining a growing herd of alpacas isn't enough work while also holding down regular daytime jobs, Elaine and her husband Mike have recently started growing their own flowers to use as natural dyes as well as to sell at both the College Place and Walla Walla Farmers' Markets.
The name of their flower business, Gholson Gardens, reflects the name of the original owner Nathaniel S. Gholson, who was a pioneer from Iowa and who homesteaded 164 acres. Elaine and Mike own the remaining 10 acres of the original homestead, hence the name, Old Homestead Alpacas.
For more information about Old Homestead Alpacas or Gholson Gardens, follow this link: