Lacey the alpaca struts up to visitors of RockHouse with zero trepidation as she requests — well, demands — to be pet on the floppy mop of hair on her head. She leans in close, something like an oversized Labrador retriever with funny paws, and greets newcomers, giving them a kiss and a baptism by fire approach to alpaca farms.
Michelle Williams, the farm owner, calls Lacey her greeting committee, the first alpaca of her herd to walk up to strangers who come over for tours.
“She’s always the first one to come up to greet, and she will give you a kiss,” Michelle said. “… I call her the rock star of RockHouse.”
It’s unexpected when you’re driving through country roads in Meridianville to happen upon a field of alpacas, but that’s exactly what happens when you drive down Monroe Road at the right time.
Now, they’re opening up their farm for small groups to tour during the coronavirus pandemic as a way to cheer up the parents, kids and other animal-lovers who have been stuck at home for far too long.
Alpaca My Bags
Michelle’s fascination with alpacas started when her husband, Bob, came home from a medical mission trip to Peru with a stuffed animal alpaca. That was the spark — Michelle didn’t know anything about alpacas before that — and it wouldn’t come to fruition until a few years later.
Michelle and Bob bought their 1947 home to raise a family, but after the kids were grown, Michelle wanted a new hobby. She thought back to that little stuffed alpaca and decided to jump in and buy a pack.
“After the kids grew up and were out of the house, I wanted something to take care of again,” Michelle said. “We did the research. We looked at goats. We looked at getting another horse or something, but after my husband had come back from Peru, I was always fascinated with alpacas because of the pictures that he brought home.”
You can’t just buy one alpaca — they like to be in groups — so she started out with six.
Since RockHouse is on a fairly well traveled road, people often backed up traffic by driving slow to see the animals. There was clearly an interest in the animals, so Michelle decided to open the farm up to outsiders.
They’re Not Llamas
Another key aspect of the tours is alpaca education. It’s easy to get them confused with llamas, especially since they’re in the same family, but there are differences. Think of llamas as that one wild cousin who is far more brazen than you are, and who posts those wild things on Facebook. Alpacas are more reserved and friendly, making them perfect to interact with kids.
“They are nicer, believe it or not,” Michelle said. “Llamas are considered more of a guardian type animal — a lot of people put llamas out in their fields to protect their goat and sheep. … llamas can be a little bit more aggressive toward a predator or something it doesn’t want in its territory. They do spit a little more than alpacas.”
Bob and Michelle keep their infant granddaughter, Mia, some days, and the alpacas love her. Of course Mia loves them as well and will grow up to have some excellent stories about being babysat on an alpaca farm.
Quarantina, the newest alpaca at RockHouse, is one of three babies born at the farm. Alpacas carry their babies for 11 1/2 months, and they’re expecting another birth within the year. If you look closely at Shakira, a brown alpaca at RockHouse, you might see a tiny alpaca kick coming from inside her belly.
If you’re interested in a tour of RockHouse, contact Michelle through her Facebook page. Groups are limited to 10 people and include an hour of time with alpacas and food to feed them. The cost is $10 per person, and those funds go straight back into alpaca care and feeding.