Alpaca can be soft and gentle friends

Photo provided

Alpaca ranchers in Wayland, north of Mt. Pleasant, say the Lions organization, which helps so many children, shares that characteristic with the ranch's alpaca; interacting with the alpaca or the Lions can help people feel better.

OTTUMWA — An Iowa Lions Foundation fundraiser will be much different than in past years; a pair of regional members have agreed to open their private alpaca farm for the event.

Apple Blossom Alpaca Ranch in Wayland will open its gates for the fundraiser 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Nov. 3, a Saturday. Brian and Marianne Pattyson are the ranch owners. The Lions Foundation is calling the event Alpaca Fall Fest. This region of the Lions has dozens of chapters, including the Agency Lions Club, as well as the Blakesburg, Fremont and Ottumwa Evening Lions Club and the Ottumwa Noon Lions Club.

According to Marianne, alpacas are the gentle relatives of the llama from South America; the Inca's used them as pack animals and for their fiber, she told the Courier. They're distantly related to camels. Upon first glance, in fact, alpacas could be described as looking like a cross between a lamb and a camel.

Mariannne said with their soft feet, the creatures maintain a good grip in the mountains of Peru but don't tear up the pasture. They rarely try to take a chomp out of a human, though they do keep lawns trimmed; according to the ranchers, the alpaca just nibble the top off of the grass rather than rip the blades up and tear the roots.

"When the conquistadors came to [the New World hundreds] of years ago, they marched on Peru," said Marianne.

From what she has learned, the differences in culture actually saved lives.

"The conquistadors wanted gold; the natives were more protective of the alpacas than of their gold."

The invaders started grabbing the gold. When no one seemed bothered, they took the gold and left without a slaughter. In Marianne's telling of the tale, as the soldiers carted off the gold, the Incas breathed a sigh of relief.

"You can't eat gold," Marianne said.

In fact, until the late '80s, it was illegal to take an alpaca out of Peru. Rules are tightening again. That luxury textile industry in Peru requires that alpaca hair is rare.

"Iowa hay makes the fiber even better," Marianne said. "These are things you learn raising them. They don't leave a footprint. We try to educate anybody and everybody. It's such a therapeutic value to have people here."

The elderly, the infirm, everybody seems to feel better after interacting with these soft, quiet creatures, they said. The couple listed some of the real-world effects such interaction has had. People from around the Midwest and the world come to the ranch in southeast Iowa, they added.

For the upcoming fundraiser day, tour the farm, meet and feed the alpaca, learn the uses of alpaca wool. The "cute and soft show animals" don't mind gentle hugs. Relax around the fire pit, or take the kids on an authentic hay ride. Lunch will be available on the grounds.

This ranch "is a restored 1830s, 130-acre property in rural southeast Iowa," according to the couple's webpage. On their Facebook page, Brian is said to be a descendent of Johnny Appleseed.

To find the town of Wayland on a map, triangulate the midway point between Mt. Pleasant, Washington and Richland — on Highway 78. The farm is on Dakota Avenue, which is also considered to be Highway 55. Try your GPS with 1009 Dakota Ave., just north of Highway 78.

Facebook has the event listed, and that leads to the ranch Facebook page, with more information including admission prices: https://www.facebook.com/events/312774809483419/

Reporter Mark Newman has an email at MNewman@Ottumwacourier.com.

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Born in New England, reporter Mark Newman has lived in Iowa and Nebraska over 20 years, with 12 years as a Courier staff writer. He covered education news, but is now focusing on social issues as well as feature stories of local interest.