Mark your calendars as next weekend is National Alpaca Farm Days.
Farms across the country, as well as in Tennessee and right here in Tullahoma, will open their barn doors and welcome folks to come and meet the cute and curious alpacas.
According to the website, alpacainfo.com, alpacas are a domesticated species of the South American camelid. Alpacas come in two breed-types: huacaya and suri. Huacayas, the more common type, account for about 90 percent of all alpacas and have fluffy, crimpy fleece that gives the animals a teddy bear-like appearance. Suris grow silky, lustrous fleece that drapes gracefully in beautiful pencil-locks.
According to Tullahoma resident Hal Corum, owner of Ledford Mill Alpacas, the animals are cat-like in their personality.
“Their temperament is kind of like a cat,” Hal said. “They are curious, they will come and check you out. But most keep a certain distance from you, well at least until they know you.”
The Corums’ farm is one of thousands across the country that will be welcoming folks to come and check out these unique animals.
Hal and his wife, Debbie Corum, began their adventure with alpacas just a little over four years ago.
The couple moved to Tennessee from Florida 12 years ago to be closer to Debbie’s family and with the hope of owning animals one day.
Their chance to do so would come when a farm just down the road from the couple went up for auction.
“We drove by the farm each day. We called it ‘the nice farm.’ We then noticed an auction sign and that the land was being divided up into parcels,” Hal said. “They were having a preview weekend and we came out. While they didn’t have anything we liked in the way of personal property, we also looked around the house and we fell in love with the place. The day of the auction, there weren’t many people here for the auction as it was cold and it was the first week in December. We actually wound up winning the bid on the 5-acre parcel of land that included the house and all the buildings.”
The couple later purchased the land in front of their home and doubled the size of the farm to 10 acres.
Debbie said there were several reasons why the couple chose to raise alpacas.
“I’ve always been interested in sewing and fabrics and we’ve always wanted some kind of animals. We wanted something we didn’t have to kill. So, it was just a happy medium with the alpacas,” she said.
Hal said alpacas are like most livestock.
“They’re just not as heavy,” he said. “The average weight for an alpaca is 125 to 150 pounds. A really large animal can top out around 175 to 200 max. They are also easier on your pastures.”
Alpacas live 15 to 20 years. The longest documented lifespan of an alpaca is 27 years.
Alpacas learn very quickly and have long memories. They recognize other alpacas they have been close to, even if they have been separated for several years. They seldom forget something they have learned, either. They are intensely curious animals and take a lot of interest in the actions of other animals and people.
Alpacas hum and use it to express a variety of emotions, from curiosity to interest to anxiety. They have a piercing alarm whistle that is quite distinctive but seldom heard. The males have their own unique ‘love song’ – an orgle – when they are wooing their girl. And the cria, a term used to describe young alpacas, click their tongues when talking to their mother.
Alpacas are very gentle creatures. Their first line of defense is to spit. While unpleasant, their spitting is not dangerous. They will kick, but because they have soft foot pads, the impact is more likely to be unpleasant rather than painful.
Alpacas produce a luxurious fiber which can be shorn on an annual basis, and sold as either raw fleece, or manufactured in yarn or fabric.
Each year, the Corums shear their heard of 20 alpacas.
“We shear them once a year and we get the fiber off of them,” Debbie said. “It’s awesome material. It makes material or yarn and several things can be manufactured using their fiber. We send our fiber off to a mill where it’s turned into yarn or fabric. You can do that or you can send it off to a co-op and then you can get cash for your raw fiber or you can do trade and get finished products from the fiber. It won’t necessarily be from your own alpaca, but it could be. If you send the fiber to mill, the material you receive back is from your own animals.”
A lover of fabrics and sewing, Debbie said she will be using the material from her own alpacas to make clothing and more.
Welcoming the public
In 2017, the Corums opened their farm up to the public during the National Alpaca Farm Days.
“Last year we did, for the first time, this National Alpaca Farm Days,” Hal said. “We were expecting and had talked to some people who said we might get four or five people out to the farm. We wound up having 16 on Saturday and 12 on Sunday. Which was comfortable, and we enjoyed it. We are hoping to have those numbers and a bit more. Some brought their children out to see what a real farm was like. I think this is a good situation because they are fairly gentle animals. You do have to watch where you walk, but we have a few that really do enjoy attention and they will come up and let you pet them and scratch them.”
Hal said he has plans for retirement in the near future and focus all his energy on his alpacas.
“I’m looking at a little over a year and then I’m going to retire and this [the farm] will become my full-time job,” he said. “I plan to have the farm open on an appointment basis. That way I can keep the groups small. We also plan to have what they call a farm store which will have our products for sale that include yarn, rug yarn, hats, mitts, and even ‘alpaca poo’, as we call it, or alpaca manure. It’s great for composting.”
In the meantime, the couple welcomes folks to come out next weekend and check out the alpacas and enjoy the same interaction with the animal as they said they are fortunate with them each day.
For the upcoming Alpaca Farm Days, Ledford Mill Alpacas will be open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 29 and from noon to 4 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 30. The farm is free to visit and is located at 3751 Ledford Mill Road in Tullahoma.