Not so very long ago, finding an alpaca involved serious airfare to South America and a stout pair of hiking boots for the 3500 metre climb to the Andean plateau they call home.
Today, a short drive brings you face to furry face with these oddly handsome, impossibly cute creatures. In Brome Lake and beyond, alpaca farming is a growth industry.
René Desharnais’ Domaine des Nobles Alpagas is a case in point. This is his story. Like many converts to the Townships, Deharnais had worked long and hard in the city and grown weary of it. By 2004 he was looking for an escape hatch. In 2006 he found it. Specifically, he found 64 acres off Highway 104 on Barnes Rd. in Lac Brome. But what to do there?
In November of that year, he first laid eyes on an alpaca and experienced his ‘coup de foudre’ moment. “You cannot see them and be indifferent to them. I knew what I had to do.”
“Alpacas are enormously appealing, in a Dr. Seuss kind of way.”
Alpacas are members of the camelid family, that includes camels, llamas and the wild vicuna. Unlike their much larger cousin the llama, alpacas are not used as pack animals but have been domesticated and prized for their lustrous fibre, which has been spun into garments in their native South America for thousands of years. It’s not hard to see why. Alpacas are enormously appealing, in a Dr. Seuss kind of way. They are tough as nails and thrive in difficult environments, eat sparingly on whatever grasses are available, are compact, gentle, clean, shy but smart and trainable, and come in myriad lovely colours. They are also fridge magnets to kids and adults of all ages. Desharnais was hooked.
He bought his first animal, a female named Aristo Milady Theodora, on Feb. 14, 2007, and has never looked back. Today he has a herd that varies between 50 and 70 head – alpacas are valued to buy and to sell – and moves 10,000 pairs of socks and sweaters a year from his farm boutique and online. He also welcomes up to 150 visitors a day for seasonal tours of the facility – “last Thanksgiving we had 1500 people over the weekend!”
As for Aristo Milady Theodora, she is still with the herd. On Feb. 14, of this year, Valentine’s Day, it will have been 10 years.
Domaine des Nobles Alpagas
24 ch Barnes, Lac-Brome, Québec J0E 2P0