SILVANA — Abby Railling of Seattle said she’s always liked alpacas but had never seen them close up before.
She and her friend Katie Martin were out driving on a day trip Sunday and saw the signs to an open house at Ruthann McVicker’s alpaca farm near Silvana.
“Alpacas and llamas — I’ve kind of had a little thing about them,” Railling said. “They’re awesome.”
The two young women and more than 400 other visitors got a chance to see alpacas, feed and pet them at the open house at the JRAM Alpaca farm this weekend.
McVicker and Alise Schmitt of Marysville, who keeps her alpacas at the farm, have held the event four years in a row in conjunction with National Alpaca Farm Days. The event was also part of the Harvest Jubilee, an open house day for farms in the Stanwood area.
McVicker keeps 23 alpacas at her farm and Schmitt, owner of Genesis Alpacas, has 26. About 150,000 alpacas are kept on farms nationwide, Schmitt said, and have been bred in the United States for only about 25 years.
Alpacas come in several colors, white the most common, brown the next. Some are gray or black. Local breeders match up their animals with each other to try to achieve different color combinations and the finest fleece, Schmitt said. Alpacas with lower-grade fleece often are sold as pets.
Alpacas and their South American cousins, llamas, are both related to camels. There are several differences between the two.
Alpacas are smaller than llamas, averaging about 150 pounds fully grown, Schmitt said. They’re bred for their luxurious fleece, for show and as pets. Alpacas are descended from vicunas, their wild South American ancestors. Llamas are descended from guanacos.
Llamas weigh as much as 300 to 450 pounds, and are bred as pack animals as well as for fleece and for show. They also have a strong protective nature and can serve as guardians for smaller animals.
Like llamas, alpacas will spit, though usually at each other, as one male did in the middle of a pushing-and-shoving match on Sunday.
Still, the cuteness factor at the farm was high, magnified by the birth of several babies in the past two months. The youngest, Silas, was just six days old on Sunday.
“People like to see the babies,” Schmitt said.
A visit to the farm was a tactile experience as well as a visual one.
Visitors felt the wet tickle of the alpacas’ tongues as the animals ate feed pellets out of their hands. They stroked the alpacas’ downy fleece and ran their fingers through samples that had been shorn.
Inside the barn, alpaca products were for sale, including sweaters, socks and hats. All had a silky fine texture, and a price to match — socks sold for $20, sweaters for $100.
Alpaca fleece is softer, lighter and warmer than sheep’s wool, Schmitt said. It’s also hypoallergenic and more water repellent.
Displays in the barn showed how the fleece is processed into fiber. Three women from a local spinning club demonstrated how it’s made into yarn.
Lili Cervantes-Patel of Snohomish, using a spinning wheel, had never worked with the soft alpaca fiber before.
“I think I’m going to be addicted to this,” she said.
Bill Sheets: 425-339-3439; firstname.lastname@example.org.