You can talk to the animals

STANWOOD — The Boehmers wanted their young daughters to do something different this weekend.

John and Jaime Boehmer, both 31, of Burlington, brought Emma, 6, and Sophia, 4, to visit a local alpaca farm on Saturday afternoon as part of the National Alpaca Farm Days weekend.

The family heard about the event from John Boehmer’s parents, who live on Camano Island. Alpaca farmers all over the country have opened their doors this weekend to give people an opportunity to learn about the animals.

At the farm near Silvana, Ruthann McVicker took her curious visitors around the farm, sharing her knowledge about alpacas. The Boehmers were surprised to learn that the animals have only two toes. They marveled at the touch of the animals’ soft coats.

“It’s a really enriching experience,” Jaime Boehmer said. “Maybe there’s something we can learn from these creatures.”

Alpacas greeted their guests sniffing the air curiously, munching on their hay snacks. Babies clung to their mothers.

Marilyn Stone of Stanwood was taking pictures. Stone, who is retired, was on her way home from a grocery store when she saw a sign advertising the event. She was glad she made it out.

“I’m learning a lot,” she said.

Stone peppered Alise Schmitt with questions. Schmitt, of Marysville, helps McVicker run the farm, where her Alpacas also live. Stone followed her guide into a barn, where alpaca products were displayed. Stone ran her fingers through strands of fleece, spilling out of large bags set on a table for visitors to see. She liked how clean and soft it felt.

Alpacas have been raised in the states for the past 25 years. They are typically shorn in the spring, each yielding 5 to 12 pounds of fleece.

Between the two of them, McVicker and Schmitt have some 56 alpacas on the farm. They grow the animals for fleece and offer breeding services. Alpacas became popular in Washington, Schmitt said. The state boasts the second largest number of alpacas in the country.

Schmitt and her husband got hooked on the animals in 2000. The two are building a retirement business. But it’s more than just business; it’s a lifestyle, Schmitt said. People who decide to get alpacas usually are looking for a kind of peaceful, low-key existence.

“They learn quickly. It’s very rewarding to train them,” she said of the animals.

Schmitt’s skills as a nurse transfer well to working with the animals and nurturing them.

McVicker and her husband first purchased alpacas in 2002, after retiring from their jobs in the telecommunications field. McVicker has been taking comfort in her animals since her husband died in 2005.

Since she’s been living on the farm, McVicker’s vicious migraines disappeared.

“These animals are so soothing,” she said. “It’s a whole different lifestyle.”

Katya Yefimova: 425-339-3452, kyefimova@heraldnet.com.

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