Alpacas are intriguing animals. Their body shape makes you think of a camel, while a closer inspection of their faces trigger thoughts of terriers. And it is hard not to fall in love with their big teddy bear eyes.
At least that was the case for Mike and Janice Fountain of Marshfield.
"It's very relaxing just to sit outside and watch them graze," Mike Fountain told Newsline 9.
The couple operate Fountain Mist Alpacas in Marshfield. It's a business they started after buying an alpaca years ago. That first alpaca lead to a second, and then to a third. 47 animals later, their farm offers ample evidence they're still enamored with these charming creatures they say few understand.
"There's a lot of people who have never heard of alpacas or think they are a little llama or a cross between two animals or something," Fountain said.
But that impression couldn't be further from the truth. The species was originally bred by the Incas in the Andes Mountains for their fur. But after Conquistador conquests into South America, bringing Merino sheep, the species was nearly wiped out.
"They saw them as competition. So the villagers went and just got all the alpacas, rounded them up and pushed them up into the mountains where they could survive," Fountain said.
That bred the species to adapt to living on little grass and thanks to a full fur coat, cold climates.
Alpacas are divided into two breeds: suri and huacaya. The difference between the breeds is the type of fur they grow. Huacaya alpacas grow fuzzy fur while suri alpacas display naturally dreadlock fur.
Both types grow fur that is sheared once a year and used by alpaca farmers as a renewable resource made into yarn for items like hats, gloves, socks and scarves.
The Fountains use the fur they shear in an alpaca co-op that makes clothing in the United States from domestic alpacas.
"They can be very friendly, they're very curious, but to be honest with you they can get a little aloof," Fountain said.
And it is true that from time to time the animals do spit. It's one of their only defense mechanisms. A small setback to a species the Fountains have made a life with.
Fountain Mist Alpacas offers tours for visitors with advance notice. The farm also sells alpacas and has a collection of alpaca fur products available to sell. For more information, follow this link.