By BEN DUDLEYThe Wilson Post
They are soft, cute, unusual, and slowly taking over Tennessee.
They are alpacas and on Saturday, Sept. 26 at the James E. Ward Agricultural Center/Wilson County Fairgrounds from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., the Tennessee Alpaca Association will hold its National Alpaca Farm Day.
Farm Day has been going on for several years, but it was never at one place. Instead, people were given directions to individual farms to go and ask questions and see the animals.
This is the first year that Farm Day has been held with several participating farms in a single location. There are also similar gatherings in Virginia and Oregon.
“It got too time consuming for people to drive out to individual farms,” said Melody Weist, a Lebanon alapaca farmer. “This will be much simpler. Eventually, we want to hold a student competition, where college students are judged on the clothing they can make with alpaca fleece, as well as a fiber judging, to see whose animals have the highest quality of fleece.”
Weist and her husband Mike, whose farm is located on Burnt House Road in the Gladeville area, began raising and breeding alpacas three years ago after buying a few of the animals from Leiper’s Fork in Williamson County.
“We had this farm and we wanted to do something for retirement,” Weist said. “I wanted to raise something that I wouldn’t have to slaughter. Alpacas are very gentle animals and it’s very soothing to be around them. I don’t have to be on blood pressure medication anymore because they are so soothing.”
Weist said that alpacas are very intelligent and have unique personalities, like cats. She said some are fine to be fed and left alone while others love to be petted and loved.
“They give kisses and hum when they are loved on,” Weist said.
One of the bigger farms in the area is called Hickory Bluff in Mt. Juliet. The farm is owned by Bill and Ruth Fuqua and they have a herd of 64 alpacas and two “guard llamas.”
The farm was started in 1998 with eight alpacas the Fuquas had bought from Oregon. Seven years later, they began a fiber mill in Gallatin called New Era Fiber that now takes fleece from more than 200 farms.
The Fuquas also have a store at the farm where they sell yarn from alpaca fleece as well as hats, socks, gloves, scarves and sweaters made from alpacas. The store also serves as a showcase for the awards they have won.
Mrs. Fuqua is very proud of her alpacas and the quality of yarn they produce. She is the national coordinator of student design competitions and has two displays of clothing made by design students from her alpacas.
She will be giving educational seminars on alpaca care on Saturday. The Alapaca Farm Day will give people the chance to come out and see the animals as well as show their fleece and how it can be made into yarn that can in turn be made into clothing.
According to the Alpaca Owners and Breeders Association website, “Alpacas produce one of the world's finest and most luxurious natural fibers. It is clipped from the animal without causing it injury. Soft as cashmere and warmer, lighter and stronger than wool, it comes in more colors than any other fiber producing animal (approximately 22 basic colors with many variations and blends).”
Farms from all across the state will be gathered Saturday at the fairgrounds to show off their alpacas to the public. Several farms from Lebanon and Mt. Juliet will attend, as well as farms from Cookeville, Murfreesboro, Manchester, McKenzie, Riceville, Rutledge, Smithville, Gallatin and Taft.
The AOBA has nearly 4,500 member farms across the country and Canada and there are farms in every state including Hawaii and Alaska. Every Canadian province is represented except Prince Edward Island, Yukon, Nunavut, and the Northwest Territories.
The festivities will be held at the Poultry Barn at the fairgrounds from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 26 and admission is free. For more information, visit www.tnalpaca.org or www.alpacafarmday.com.
Staff Writer Ben Dudley may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.