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There’s a lot to like about alpaca

Vineyard farm spreads the word about this gentle animal’s many attractive qualities


Photo by Charles Sternaimolo

Let’s call this a story of love at first sight. A little over ten years ago, Barbara Ronchetti of Edgartown came across a few cute faces while perusing the animals and exhibitions at the annual Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Fair. How cute are we talking? Very, very cute! The animals attached to those faces were soft too, and gentle, curious and friendly.


Photo by Charles Sternaimolo

A decade after viewing an alpaca for the very first time that day, Ronchetti says the experience changed her life. “When I saw them at the fair,” she says, “I thought ‘I need to have these animals in my life’.”

The wheels were in motion. A longtime advertising representative and graphic designer for The Martha’s Vineyard Times, Ronchetti was so taken with the animals that in 2005 she purchased a 19-acre property on Head of the Pond Road in Oak Bluffs; in the years that followed, she left her position at the newspaper, built a barn on the property—and in the fall of 2007, opened the doors to a brand new business.

Since then, Island Alpaca Company has been introducing the Vineyard—and visitors from around the world—to alpaca. Ronchetti says the majority of her business involves selling and breeding the animals—and the company was the first on the Vineyard to do the latter. “The reception overall is very positive,” she says in reference to her island neighbors. “The best thing about the farm is having people who have never experienced alpaca discover them here. There are so many special things about them.”

She elaborates. “They don’t bark, they don’t bite, and they’re very gentle,” Ronchetti says. “They do make great pets.” In addition, alpaca produce a fleece that is considered to be one of the world’s finest fibers. It’s attractive for a number of reasons, including the fact it is hypo-allergenic, its insulation quality is very high, and it’s super soft!

Each year, the animals are shorn at the end of April and on average yield five to ten pounds of fleece which, the company’s website describes as “warmer, lighter and stronger than wool.” Also, the fleece grows naturally in 22 distinguishable fiber colors—with even more shades in between.

Ronchetti adds that alpaca, which generally weigh between 140 to 180 pounds as adults, are cost-effective when compared with horses and llamas and easy to keep. “All you need is hay and water and a little bit of feed,” she says, adding that the animals eat about one-fifth that of a horse.

Members of the camelidae family, which also includes camels and llamas, alpaca are native to South America and are commonly found in Peru, Chile and Bolivia. They can seemingly adapt to any climate, though, and have reportedly flourished on farms from Florida to Minnesota—and to Martha’s Vineyard. The animals’ life span is often 20 to 25 years or more. In addition to fleece, Ronchetti says the animals produce another rich, if overlooked, byproduct: alpaca poop—a wonderful fertilizer.

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