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Alpacas find a home in Greenbank

Home, home on the range, where the deer and the alpaca roam.

Alpaca?

There have always been the occasional deer seen around Greenbank Farm, but the presence of alpacas over the last week has slowed traffic on Highway 525, as motorists gawk at the curious animals that look like someone’s idea of a compact, more graceful camel.

Freeland resident Dick Whittick imported a herd of 22 alpacas not from their home country of Peru, but from an alpaca farm in British Columbia. How they ended up at Greenbank Farm is a story of fortuitous timing.

In July, Laura Blankenship, manager of the farm, stopped by Cotswold Collectibles in Freeland, owned by Dick Whittick, looking for some donated prizes for Loganberry Festival contest winners. What she found was a man in need of pasture land for a herd of alpacas he had ordered.

Whittick said he walks his dogs at the farm and had always thought “this would be the perfect place for alpacas.” But he never inquired, mainly because he figured it would take months to receive permission for such an endeavor from the Port of Coupeville, which controls operations at the publicly-owned farm.

Blankenship surprised him by saying that the port had already approved grazing as a use at the farm. “It’s part of the strategic plan — restoring farming practices here,” Blankenship said last week. “The port likes it.”

Although the farm has started a new loganberry crop and leased land to a cultivator of beet and chard seeds, there were no commercial animals on the farm.

Whittick fixed that problem by bringing in a truckload of alpacas last Monday, Aug. 26. He and a small crew had prepared hurriedly for their arrival by putting up fencing on 10 acres leased from the farm, at the cost of $250 per acre per year.

The 14 females, 5 males and 3 babies were greeted by three separately fenced areas. The males are kept in their own area.

Whittick said he was looking for something to do when he retires, and raising farm animals appealed to him. Alpacas are exotic for this clime, but Whittick found one attribute most attractive: “You can make a profit without having to kill them,” he said.

The alpaca is native to the high Andes in Peru, and is related to the llama and camel, although gentler than both. The high-quality fiber in their coats is sought after by clothing manufactures and fiber artists.

The animals represent a significant investment, costing a minimum of $1,500 per head and going up quickly. There are an estimated 40,000 alpacas in North America, and some four million in Peru.

Some of the females are pregnant and will give birth next year, and Whittick plans to add others until the herd reaches around 100, which is all his 10 acres at the Greenbank Farm can support. They eat lightly and like to be outdoors in all kinds of weather, but Whittick is building a feeder with an overhanging roof so they can find shelter if they want it.

The alpacas are a welcome addition to the farm, according to Blankenship, and they are quite accessible to the public. A sign on the fence tells people a bit about the alpacas and Whittick doesn’t mind if people walk up the the fence to look at the animals. “It doesn’t bother them at all,” he said. He plans to halter break a few of the animals so they will become even friendlier.

“In a couple of weeks they’ll come up to the fence and offer people kisses,” he said. “They don’t like to be touched on the head but they like to have their necks stroked.”

Whittick is hoping the five-foot high wire fences will keep out the coyotes. He said alpacas aren’t fighters, but they defend themselves by forming a phalanx formation and marching toward a predator. For more security, he has ordered an Italian Miremma guard dog but it will arrive as a puppy and need training before going to work.

Joan Handy, one of the many passersby who have stopped to look at the animals, said she couldn’t resist. “I was so surprised coming down the island and seeing alpacas,” she said. The animals are cute and friendly, and it was easy to tell that Handy might want some for her own farm on Honeymoon Bay Road.

“I’m thinking about it,” she admitted. She just wondered how her 20 llamas would greet their kin from the Andes.

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