Why you need to visit an alpaca farm in Ontario
Though I’ve lived here all my life, I never knew there were alpaca farms in Ontario.
As it turns out, alpacas have been raised in Ontario since the 1980s. A small group of farmers brought them to Canada from South America, and created a registry that would educate Canadians, promote ethical alpaca breeding, and develop the fibre industry. Today, many of the alpaca farms in Ontario are open to visits with the public, and many of these alpaca farms are close to Toronto, making for a fantastic day trip. I made the trip out to Kickin’ Back Alpaca Ranch with my friend - and podcast producer - Kattie! We are the creators of Alpaca My Bags podcast, and had never actually met alpacas. Naturally, this needed to change. How could we have never met the namesake animal of our podcast?
Alpaca farms near Toronto: Kickin’ Back Alpaca Ranch
Most Ontario alpaca farm visits are by appointment only. After looking at a couple farms, we emailed Kickin’ Back Alpaca Ranch to arrange our visit. The ranch is in Markdale, about two hours north of Toronto, and is operated by Carolyn and Doug Lilleyman. We were interested in this particular farm because of Carolyn and Doug’s commitment to sustainability.
The couple became alpaca farmers in 2009, and since then they have grown their herd to over 60 alpacas. They are very hands-on: they feed and check on the alpacas at least twice a day, and they clean the pastures and barns daily. Being one of the closest alpaca farms to Toronto, Carolyn and Doug recognized that city folk would enjoy meeting alpacas and learning about their farm, and so they opened up their farm for private visits. Our visit was enriched by their knowledge and obvious passion for alpacas. Carolyn and Doug know each and every alpaca: their name, personality, and who their parents are.
Why you need to visit an Ontario alpaca farm
There is one reason why you need to make the trip to one of Ontario’s alpaca farms: alpacas are endearing creatures. They are quiet, peaceful animals that make soft humming sounds to communicate. They are inherently curious: as soon as we were out of the car at Kickin’ Back Alpaca Ranch, the alpacas in the nearby pasture were interested in us! They slowly approached the fence as a herd to see who the newcomers were. Although alpacas are curious and friendly, they do enjoy their personal space. While some of them will enjoy a back rub, others prefer to stay an arms length distance away. Carolyn and Doug explained that in all their years of raising alpacas in Ontario, they have learned that alpaca personalities are diverse and full of character. Some are playful, some are vocal, others are shy. A trip to an Ontario alpaca farm is more than just fun - it is educational. Throughout our visit we learned about alpacas, farming, sustainability, and more.
Alpacas as therapy animals, but not as pets
Alpacas can be therapy animals! While most people think of dogs when they think of therapy animals, it turns out that alpaca therapy is a thing, too. As with all animals, an alpaca’s ability to serve as a therapy animal depends on its personality. Kickin’ Back Alpaca Ranch is now home to a retired therapy alpaca named Ozzy. Ozzy is a friendly and calm alpaca who doesn’t mind human contact and is comfortable being walked on a halter. He spent 8 years visiting community spaces, delighting children and adults alike. While some alpacas are comfortable enough with human interaction to be therapy alpacas , they should not be kept as pets. Carolyn explained to us that alpacas are not fully domesticated, and as a result they will exhibit wild behavior in the home, especially as they grow older. Alpacas are very much herd animals, and are most comfortable when they are amongst other alpacas. Bring an alpaca into the home as a pet removes them from the habitat that they are most happy in, inducing stress.
Why are there so many alpacas in Ontario?
Kickin’ Back Alpaca Ranch was one of many alpaca farms in Ontario that we discovered while researching potential farms for our visit. And, there are many more farms that aren’t open to the public, meaning that there are even more alpacas in Ontario that one would imagine. Alpacas are easy to raise and easily handled. Because they are personable and good with kids, they are often the animal of choice for hobby farms. Moreover, alpacas are hardy animals, making them unphased by Ontario’s weather extremes. They can adapt to most climates, elevations, and conditions. Their thick layer of fibre keeps them warm in the winter, and after being sheared in the spring, the hot summer weather doesn’t bother them.
Alpaca products at Kickin’ Back Alpaca Ranch
Kickin’ Back Alpaca Ranch breeds and sells alpacas, but Carolyn and Doug also shear the alpacas and process their fibres to create an array of beautiful alpaca products, including alpaca socks, mittens, hats, blankets, and carpets. The fibre produced by alpacas is as fine as cashmere. It is soft, silky, and much warmer than sheep’s wool, making it the perfect fibre for Canadians to sport during our chilly winters. Carolyn gave us a tour and demonstration of how she processes the fibre from the farm’s alpacas. In her commitment to sustainability she uses no chemicals in processing the fibres, and she repurposes any fibre scraps to minimize waste. Carolyn explained that she has begun upcycling scarves and shawls by adding alpaca fibre to the pieces as embellishment. This process keeps clothing from going to the landfill, instead providing the pieces new life. To see some of the alpaca products that Kickin’ Back Alpaca Ranch is producing, you can head here.
What you need to know for your visit to an Ontario alpaca farm
Visiting an Ontario alpaca farm makes for a great day trip for those living in Toronto and other Ontario cities. If visiting alpacas is on your summer bucket list, be sure to prepare for the trip. It is important to contact the Ontario alpaca farm that you intend to visit in advance. They will arrange a date and time for the visit via email. Not surprisingly, alpaca visits are becoming quite popular so you will likely need to book far in advance! Most of the farms charge a small fee for the visit - we paid $20 flat for our visit to Kickin’ Back Alpaca Ranch.
Most of Ontario’s alpaca farms are in the countryside. Given that a visit will last a maximum of three hours, it is possible to add other stops to your day trip. For example, a visit to Kickin’ Back Alpaca Ranch might include a stop at Eugenia Lake, or a tasty lunch at Highland Grounds, a coffee shop in the nearby town of Flesherton, Ontario.
Depending on the time of year, be sure to dress accordingly! During spring and fall the Ontario alpaca farms might be muddy, so durable footwear is recommended. Ontario alpacas can be visited in the winter, in which case, be sure to dress warmly.
All about alpacas
Alpacas are indigenous to the High Andes of the South American countries of Peru, Bolivia and Chile.
The gestation period of a female alpaca is 11.5 months!
Alpacas very rarely spit at people – usually only when nervous or overexcited.
Alpacas are significantly smaller than llamas, and have a different face and ear shape. Alpacas have a single layered coat of fur, whereas llamas grow a double coat.
Alpacas only have a bottom set of teeth.
Alpacas live from 15 to 20 years.
Alpacas are typically sheared in the spring. They produce from 3 - 10 lbs of fibre per year.