When my family and I arrived at Sweet Clover Alpaca, we were surprised at the farm's size and location. Even though it is the largest alpaca farm in Central Arkansas, it is still a small family farm run by Debbie Shannon. Debbie is an amazing woman who manages the farm, raises and cares for the animals, spins their fleece into yarn, and mentors others who want to raise alpacas. She was happy to answer all of our questions, including those about the size of the farm. Turns out, alpacas don't need that much space or food, adding to their sustainability.
At Sweet Clover Alpaca, reclaimed fence panels make up the barn that sits behind the house. Two sweet dogs keep the herd safe from wildcats. Alpacas are so gentle, I can't imagine how they would defend themselves! Debbie told us they are so mild, they interact well with children and my young cousins were no exception.
Alpaca fleece rivals cashmere in it's warmth and softness, but alpacas are more sustainable livestock than cashmere goats. With their soft padded feet and low food requirements, alpacas are very gentle on their environment. They are ruminants, which means they cut the grass they eat rather than ripping it out by the roots like goats. After annual shearing, alpaca fleece is graded by hand and all of the grades can be used; the better grades are made into yarn for knits while the lower grades can be used as filler for duvets or for insulation. Alpaca fleece comes in twenty-two shades that can be blended together for more variety, reducing the need for dyes and the water consumption that accompanies the process. Unlike sheep's wool, alpaca fleece does not contain lanolin which must be removed before wool can be spun. This not only further reduces the chemical and water footprint of alpaca fleece, but also makes it hypoallergenic. And at the end of it's life, it will biodegrade as it is a natural fibre.
I really loved learning about and meeting the alpacas and I'm grateful for Debbie's kindness and hospitality. I'm tempted to have my own farm and maybe one day I will! If you are ever in Conway, Arkansas be sure and contact Debbie to check out her herd. You can also purchase yarn spun on site and products made from the national fiber pool on her website.
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