GRASSY CREEK —It seems people are willing to do almost anything for a chance to play around with cute farm critters.
That apparently includes braving a steady downpour and unseasonably cool temperatures.
Large crowds packed Landmark Farm Alpaca’s biggest open house of the year Sept. 26-27.
Owned by Ralph and Rachelle Bridges, the farm was founded in 2010. It’s hosted an open house as part of National Alpaca Farm Days each year.
“The main goal for this weekend is that we want the public to have an introduction to alpacas and learn what they are, what they are used for and have the opportunity to see all kinds of educational exhibits and posters that answer most people’s questions about alpacas,” Rachelle Bridges said.
Similar to camels and llamas, alpacas are raised for their fiber, which is considered softer, less scratchy and has more insulating properties than sheeps’ wool.
Visitors had the opportunity to see the process of alpaca fiber being made into hats, scarves and other items by hobby spinners, weavers, felters, crocheters and knitters.
“They had an opportunity to see the process of alpaca fleece being put into a finished item,” Rachelle Bridges said. “There is raw fleece set out on the table and then we have hand spinners prepping fleece and spinning it and then it goes to a knitter.”
Young children were also able to participate in the action by helping artists weave and spin the alpaca fiber themselves.
At Landmark Farm Alpacas, the alpacas are sheared once a year and were sheared most recently this past April. On average, adult alpacas lose between four-nine pounds of their fur but larger males can lose nearly 10 pounds just on their sides.
On shearing day, the Bridges bring in experts to go through the shearing process with each alpaca to ensure that fibers are sheared evenly. Local fiber artists also come on shearing day to pick out which fibers they want and then the rest is sent to a fiber mill to be made into yarn.
Visitors were able to purchase alpaca yarn made from the farm’s own alpacas at Landmark Farm Alpacas’ on-site store, which was added in the summer of 2013. Other alpaca gifts including scarves, caps, gloves and socks, needle-felted Christmas ornaments, alpaca teddy bears, children’s toys, and calendars with Landmark Farm’s award-winning photographs were also available for purchase.
In addition to educating the public on alpacas, Landmark Farm Alpacas used the NAFD event as a fun way to raise money for Happy Tails Rescue of West Jefferson.
“Since we are such huge animal lovers, we thought what better way than to use our Farm Days open house as a venue to help raise money for abandoned and needy pets,” Rachelle Bridges said.
Happy Tails Rescue, a small non-profit animal rescue organization located in Ashe County, launched in May of 2012. Since then, the organization has placed approximately 150 animals in safe, loving homes.
According to Happy Tails Rescue founder B.J. Pim, she met Ralph and Rachelle Bridges when they came to purchase food for their livestock guardian dog, Holly and the Bridges learned of what the rescue was doing for the community and wanted to help.
Pim now helps volunteer with Landmark Farm Alpaca events and sends out volunteers to assist with their NAFD event each year. Sales from raffle tickets sold as well as 10 percent all other sales of the event went to benefit Happy Tails Rescue.
“It’s to help us get our animals vaccinated and whatever else needs to be done,” Pim said. “Hopefully one day we will have our own shelter and our own staff to have a no kill shelter up here.”
“We hope the public enjoyed it and had fun,” Rachelle Bridges said. “Rainy weather is not going to chase us away.”
Landmark Farm is open year round and visits can be made by appointment. For more information or to schedule a farm visit, call 336-384-1616.
For more information about Happy Tails Rescue, call 336-846-1727.
Hannah Myers can be reached at 336-846-7164 or on Twitter @cmedia_hmyers.