Catherine Simpson never imagined she would own a farm overrun with alpacas and yet now, she has more than 40 of the furry camel-related animals and knows all the ins-and-outs of the business.
Simpson has owned Kensington Prairie Farm, located outside of Langley, B.C. for nearly two decades. Earlier this week, CBC's host of North by Northwest, Sheryl MacKay, explored the 18-hectare farm with her to learn everything there is to know about alpacas.
"I have a master's degree in public administration and truly, I never thought that I would end up being a farmer full time," Simpson said, as she showed MacKay around the padlocks.
Originally, she said, she considered raising llamas but changed her mind when a friend pointed out they spit. Instead, she settled on their relative: the alpaca.
Not pets, but they have personalities
Simpson stopped to point a group of six male alpacas, standing together in a field. One of them, called Dragon, was off by itself to the side.
"He is on bad behaviour because he beats everybody up, he's always on time out," Simpson said. "He lives by himself but in full view of the girls, so that makes him happy."
Right now, there are about 46 alpacas at Kensington farm. In the past, Simpson said, they had up to 78 alpacas at one time.
She said people often ask her how she can tell them apart. Although they are definitely not considered pets, Simpson said it easy to get to know their personalities.
"You can tell their faces are all different," she said. "They look like their moms, if you have a couple of generations together you can really see the resemblance."
Shearing for sweaters
Every April, Simpson shears her animals and sends the fleece to be processed into yarn.
"The first thing they do after shearing is roll around, they are so happy," she said. "They are hot, some of them are sweating underneath."
The yarn is then turned into sweaters, scarves, mittens and ponchos to sell in the farm shop.
Simpson tests each of her animals' fleece to keep track of the quality. The results are used as one of the measures for deciding which animals to keep and breed.
Alpaca for dinner?
The alpacas that aren't kept for breeding are slaughtered for meat. The best sections, like the tenderloin and the sirloin steak are sold separately, and the rest is ground into sausages.
"We sell alpaca meat which isn't always palatable to some people because they are pretty cute," she said.
She described the meat as very lean and tasting like a cross between veal and lamb.
To listen to the whole tour of the alpaca farm, click on the audio link below:
'You can never have a bad day'
Alpaca farming may be a business for Simpson, but it is also a lifestyle. She said she drinks her morning coffee in the fields with the livestock and loves being around the animals.
"You can never have a bad day with the animals," she said. "To come out, particularly with my grandkids now, we'll sit in the field with them. How can you not enjoy it?"
With files from North By Northwest and Sheryl MacKay.