In anticipation of the 2018 Piedmont Farm Tour at the end of the month, we caught up with a few farmers that will open their barn doors come April 28-29th to give folks a sneak peek into what a day in the life at their farm is like.

Two farms on the tour circuit that caught our eye are producing fiber: one from sheep and the other from alpacas. In today’s post, we’ll share our interview with Sarah Conyer of Alpaca Dreams, an alpaca farm situated in Louisburg, NC. Sarah, and her husband, Mike, have 12 alpacas and two llamas situated on their five-acre farm in Franklin County.

Both retirees from stressful corporate jobs, Sarah and Mike came to farming later in life to find a little peace.

How’d you come to farming?

We met our first alpacas about nine years ago when we were in our early 60s and just fell in love! Alpacas are gentle, curious and full of personality. We were basically “subdivision/couch potato/own one dog” kind of people, but once we discovered alpacas, we decided we wanted to raise them in our retirement and to make a complete lifestyle change.

I didn’t even know what an alpaca was 10 years ago! If you would have asked me if we would have an alpaca farm, I would have told you that you were nuts!

It took a year and a half to sell our house in a subdivision in Raleigh, and during that time, we purchased some alpacas and boarded them and learned as much as we could. Two of our biggest resources was from the farmers who were boarding our herd while we sought land. The amazing resource was having our veterinarian come and walk the new property — that we purchased in 2012 — with us to identify risks, like poisonous plants, that could harm our new herd. We found stressed cherry tree leaves, which just one or two leaves release cyanide and can be fatal if eaten by an alpaca.

To prepare our land, we learned a hard lesson: on a fence bordering our property, our neighbor agreed to let us periodically come in and take his cherry trees down. We thought we were really on the ball! Turns out, as they hauled the tree debris away, they took off through our property, scattering little leaves and branches the whole way through the pasture. We ended up having to follow the truck, picking up every little leaf that fell off! Needless to say, we now have them go a different route.

What makes alpacas compelling and interesting for you? What made you pick them over other fiber producing livestock?

We picked alpacas because we loved how cute, curious, and sweet they are….and after we got some, we realized how luxurious their fiber is. Alpaca is warmer than wool, doesn’t itch like wool, and is considered to be hypoallergenic because it does not contain lanolin. Also, alpacas are not aggressive. We tell visitors that if the animals get closer than they are comfortable with, just raise their arm and the animals are gone (they are very timid). Each of them has their own personality…if we are missing the brush we use to clean water pails, we always know that Reggie took it down to play with. If we hear any ‘screaming,’ we know it is Miaya telling the other girls to back off of her hay bin! And if we hear one of them alerting the herd to danger, we know it is most likely TK or Rosie, who are always the most alert to potential danger.

Does one particular alpaca have your heart?

That would be our male alpaca, Comet. He’s usually the first to come greet visitors and has a special affinity for people and their feelings. Shortly before Byrd, our farm helper who was very sick with cancer passed away, we brought him over to the farm so he could sit with the animals he loved so much. Comet came over and laid down on his side, in front of Byrd. We have never seen an alpaca make themselves so vulnerable before, and there was no reason we could think that Comet would do that other than giving this as his final gift to Byrd. Another time, we had a family group visit in memory of a family member who had recently passed away, who had loved alpacas. At one point during the visit, her immediate family was standing away from the rest of the group, overcome with emotion, and there was Comet, staying with them while they grieved.


What’s your favorite place and/or time of day on the farm?

Mornings, when it is cool and we are out raking up alpaca poop for parasite prevention (I know, sounds strange!), but we like it because it’s cool and quiet, with just the sound of the animals munching their morning hay. As we go into each pasture, some of them will come out and investigate what we are doing, hang around for awhile, while the rest just continue eating their breakfast. It is so peaceful!


What’s a common misconception about being a fiber farmer that you’d like to dispel?

The most common myth is actually about the alpacas and llamas themselves. The most frequently asked question we are asked is if the animals will spit. They have a very bad reputation for spitting, and it is greatly exaggerated. The animals don’t have many defenses – they don’t even have hooves to kick with, just a pad and two toes on each foot – so spitting is their easiest way to communicate if they are irritated. They may spit at each other if another one is bugging or crowding them, or if a few start to fight. But they don’t just walk up and spit at people! If you watch videos that have been posted that show people getting spit on, watch closely because most likely they were staring hard into their eyes, which is a sign of aggression in the animal world. When visitors are here we avoid situations where the animals might be tempted to spit……like taking out carrots in the middle of the girls’ herd. The girls are famous for spitting at each other when carrots come out since none of them want to share, so we never bring them out when all the girls are around.

What can folks look forward to seeing or doing on your farm during the Piedmont Farm Tour?

They will get to meet most of our alpacas and llamas, as well as learn about their unique personalities and what makes them fun. There are a lot of educational resources about the six crias (babies) born to our farm looked like the day they were born; how they look before and after shearing; the steps taken from shearing to making their fiber into yarn; unique characteristics of alpacas; the differences between alpacas and llamas; and a poster about our Sponsorship program.

Visitors can then roam through our gift shop and finds lots of unique and fun alpaca items–some handmade and some we have purchased. One section of the gift shop is dedicated to items made from our animals’ fiber, each item has laminated pictures of the animal(s) whose fiber was used to make it.

This is Sarah and Mike’s third year participating in the CFSA farm tours. If you’d like to see their farm, or over 40 other local, sustainable farms — ranging in what they produce from meat, dairy, mushrooms, and fruit, to vegetables — around the Piedmont, buy your pass for the 2018 Piedmont Farm Tour now!

Stay tuned for part two of this fiber farming series, where we sit down with Stoney Mountain Farm, who raise sheep.