La Dolce Vita Alpacas
A ranch in Ramona with lots of these adorable creatures
Raised on a cattle ranch in Upstate New York, Joe Attili fancied becoming a gentleman rancher when he retired. “I have delightful memories of that time,” he says as he and his wife Susan lead Gary and I down to the pens on their 10-acre farm. “Then, Susan and I went back to New York for a visit and we stopped by the neighbors to see their ‘Alpaci things.’ We’d never heard of them.” It was after the couple discovered the world of alpacas, that their world changed too. They sold their house in University City for this 10-acre Ramona property where, since 2005, they’ve been breeding and boarding alpacas.
Right now, they have 23 alpacas on their farm.
We reach the stretching piece of land where the males are kept. The boys, curious about newcomers, gather around us to get a closer look. They can’t possibly think we are as adorable as we think they are with their puffy little heads and saucer-size eyes.
“Alpacas usually run away from people,” Joe says. “But because our alpacas are well taken care of and used to people, they are interested in you.”
I immediately fall in love with an innocent-looking sweetie with a perpetual smile like he’s in on some joke that the rest of us aren’t, but another loveable, bucktoothed cutie, stares at me in wonder and my heart goes out to him.
“Like goats and sheep, alpacas only have bottom teeth,” Susan says. “And the pads of their feet are soft.”
And, we find out, they come in about 20 shades that range from white to tan to dark brown and black. I spot a black male all by himself in a different area.
“Oh, he doesn’t play well with others,” Joe explains. “We also separate the young boys from the older ones until they get a better understanding.”
We head out to the females, who are housed across the way—“or they’d be pregnant all the time,” Susan says. “They prefer to be pregnant.”
Susan gives us pellets to feed the girls. As they nibble daintily like well-mannered ladies out of my one hand, I touch the fleece with my other hand. “The fleece is softer and lighter than sheep’s wool and as strong,” says Susan, who has taken up fiber arts and has a spinning wheel and a loom in the living room of their home, which is on the property. “It’s also hypo-allergenic.”
Shearing week occurs once a year in the spring. Selling the yarn is another way the farm makes money and selective breeding brings in the best fleece. What is the best fleece? Joe brings Mr. Peabody over so that Susan can dig through and separate the thick coat to show us. This fleece has color consistency and the waves are beautiful, she explains. They harvest eight pounds a year from Paladin, one of their prize studs. “Most alpacas only have about three or four pounds,” Joe says.
As we head on back to the house, Joe and Susan let us in on a little secret: Sometimes they go out to the fields in the evening for cocktail hour—just to be with their animals. “It’s so peaceful.”
24901 Bareta Star Ranch Road, 619-672-7683, ldvalpacas.com.