Alpacas win over visitors to Stafford Springs farm

By Brenda Sullivan - ReminderNews
Stafford - posted Thu., Oct. 3, 2013
National Alpaca Farm Days
Sela and Steve Saunders brought home their first alpacas five years ago and established Gott Alpacas Farm in Stafford Springs. Their farm was part of hundreds across the state celebrating 2013 National Alpaca Farm Days on Sept. 28 and 29. Photos by Brenda Sullivan. 

Of all the characteristics that might persuade someone to raise alpacas, the cuteness factor is probably at the top of the list. At least, that’s what drew Sela Saunders into the community of alpaca-lovers.

“One day, someone brought two alpacas to work, and when I saw them, that was it for me,” Saunders said. “For a year, all we did was travel and visit alpaca farms… There’s even an Alpaca 101 course. We learned everything we could.”

On Sept. 28 and 29, Sela and her husband, Steve, shared their four-legged family of seven alpacas with visitors at their Gott Alpacas farm in Stafford Springs, as part of 2013 National Alpaca Farm Days.

Over the course of the weekend, more than 200 people stopped by the backyard farm, which gets its name from Sela’s maiden name.

One visitor was so impressed with what she saw and learned from the couple that she was inspired to consider raising alpacas herself. “They have been incredibly informative – so much so, that I want to get into this,” said Eileen Fedorowich, of Somers.

Among other things, she said, she noticed that there was no odor of manure.

She also was impressed with the beauty and function of the clothing and rugs made from alpaca fleece that were on display.

The Saunderses “bank” their alpaca fleece with the New England Fiber Pool, Inc. and order products such as mittens and scarves that the organization “farms” out to other groups for production. They also have contracted with a knitter in Pomfret for socks, with another producer in Canterbury to make rug yarn, and with a weaver to create rugs from that yarn.

Sela Saunders noted that alpaca fiber is actually hollow, and that contributes to its unusual insulating properties. Unlike wool, which loses its warmth factor if it gets wet, alpaca fleece will still keep you toasty. It’s also a lot softer and is hypoallergenic because it doesn’t contain lanolin, she said.

Working with a variety of people, including other farmers, is part of the pleasure of raising alpacas, she said. For example, a farmer in Oxford shears the alpacas.

A veterinarian from Tufts University, accompanied by his students, checks the alpacas once a year and is available for phone consultations if the Saunderses have concerns.

Steve Saunders recalled that when they first decided they wanted to raise alpacas, they had to work with the zoning commission to make sure they were in compliance with the town’s rules.

At first, the town wanted to apply the rules governing horses, but that was a problem, Saunders said. “Horses are pasture animals, so they require a lot more acreage,” he said.

While they may enjoy grazing, alpacas mainly eat hay and supplemental food mixes. It costs about $1,500 a year to feed the alpacas, he said.

They worked with the town to create new regulations and then they were ready to bring home their first alpacas, which was about five years ago.

Another plus, when it comes to raising alpacas, is that they are relatively low-maintenance, he said. He tends the paddocks before and after work – about a half hour in the morning and a half hour at night – and does a major cleaning on the weekends.

And alpacas don’t require a heated shelter, he added, because their own fleece keeps them so warm. He recalled looking outside on frigid winter days to see the alpacas lounging on the ground, soaking up the sun.

Sela and Steve Saunders are happy to talk with potential alpaca owners, share information about their products made from alpaca fleece and arrange visits to their farm. You can reach them at ssaunders8@cox.net or 860-930-7491 or 860-684-2545. Gott Alpacas is located at 72 Chestnut Hill Road in Stafford Springs. The farm is also on Facebook.


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