Alpaca popularity growing in Canada, with almost half the population in Alberta
Animals are used for their fleece, and even in therapy to help with PTSD
Alberta is fast becoming a hot spot for some animals native to South America, prized for their gentle temperament and warm, fuzzy fleece.
There are close to 28,500 alpacas in Canada — an increase of nearly 50 per cent over the past 14 years, according to the Canadian Llama and Alpaca Association.
Nearly 40 per cent of the country's llama and alpaca population is in Alberta.
The trend is new to some Alberta farmers but others jumped on the long-necked bandwagon years ago.
Leanne and Kevin Sept bought an alpaca to graze the grass on their Leduc County acreage a little over two decades ago. The family now operates Sunnyhill Alpacas. A thriving breeding program means more than 100 alpacas now roam their property.
"Their temperament is really good. They're easy to work with because they're not big animals," said Leanne Sept.
"You only have to shear them once a year. Typically their births are fairly easy. They don't eat a lot. They all poop in the same spot."
Leanne and Kevin Sept are also co-owners of Twisted Sisters & Company Fibre Mill.
Leanne said it's a lengthy process to turn alpaca fibre into yarn, which is in high demand. The fibre mill has a waiting list of almost two years.
"I'm turning away one or two customers a week at least," she said.
Shet said more mills are opening across the province and she hopes they will pick up the slack, as the interest in using alpaca fibre for clothing continues to grow.
Jody Pellerin, vice-president of the Canadian Llama and Alpaca Association, said more and more uses are being found for the fibre.
"Socks are huge," Pellerin said. "The socks are amazing. Everybody likes their socks." said Jody Pellerin, the vice president of the Canadian Llama and Alpaca Association (CLAA).
The rise in Alberta's alpaca population is concerning for Pellerin. She said she is often contacted by people who have already acquired one but have little knowledge on how to care for the animals.
"I probably get five to 10 calls a week from people looking for information on alpacas that have just been bought off the internet or, you know, through Facebook or through Kijiji or they've picked it up from Aunt Sally or whatever, but then they don't get the after-sales support," she said.
"And then they have no idea how to take care of an alpaca. They have no registration. They have no idea of what the animal is or where it's come from."
South of Edmonton, Rynn Parraw, a shaman therapist with a doctorate in parapsychology, works with a client to work on creating deep relationships. Parraw uses the animals in therapy sessions.
They stand inside a pen with a dozen alpacas. The client approaches the animals, analyzing their movements as Parraw monitors the client's reactions.
Over the past 12 years, Parraw has worked with close to 300 clients.
"It amplifies the emotional experience for people. They are small enough that people aren't afraid or intimidated. So you're more likely to interact in a comfortable way," Parraw said.
"They do still protect themselves. They alarm. They spit; they can kick. So they still have that ability to push you away. But I find the people are much more receptive to them."
As for new owners of alpacas, Pellerin recommends people register their animals with the association so their genetic lineage can be tracked. Inbreeding can lead to deformities and affect the quality of the animal's fleece, she said.
With files from Axel Tardieu