Parents searching for a day trip into the exotic need look no further than the Painted Sky Alpaca Farm in Earleville, Md.
"The alpacas are so gentle and curious that they're perfect with children," according to Linda Dickinson, who co-owns the 20-acre farm with her husband, Mitchell, and son Christopher. "And they look just like teddy bears, so the kids love them too."
Located less than 12 miles from Middletown, the alpaca farm hosts free tours for families and $4-per-person tours for larger groups, seven days a week.
"We talk about the history of the alpaca, how the animals are used, the advantages of alpaca fiber and, of course, we introduce our visitors to our herd," Linda said. "It's a learning experience for our guests and it's a lot of fun for us to educate the public about these wonderful animals that we absolutely love."
Curiosity-seekers who time their visit just right might also get the chance to meet a baby alpaca, called a cria.
"One of our alpacas is due by the end of the month, while another is due in May," Mitchell said.
The Dickinsons first got into the alpaca business in 2012 after selling their stake in a 48-year-old, family-owned supply and logistics business in north Wilmington, where the couple also lived for several years.
"We always loved animals and were already raising horses on the farm in Earleville that we moved to in 2002, then we saw our first alpacas while on vacation," Linda said. "We didn't know what they were then, but we instantly became fascinated because they're so adorable and so different."
Last summer, the Dickinsons' first nine alpacas arrived, including two who were pregnant.
"Mystical Morning Magic was born Oct. 10 and is a true black, one of the less common of the 22 recognized alpaca colors, while Magic Teddy Bear, or just Teddy, is a chocolate," Linda said. "This year, we purchased three more including, Mocha and her cria Ziva, and Pirouette, one of our soon-to-be-mothers."
In addition to the birth of two crias, the Dickinsons also are preparing for their herd's first shearing on Thursday.
"We breed and raise the animals for show just like you would with any other farm animal, but the real prize is the alpaca fiber, which is rated on par with cashmere," Mitchell said. "It's far superior to sheep's wool because it's a lot softer and stronger and has no lanolin, which is what makes wool itch. It's hypoallergenic, flame-resistant and it wisks away moisture from your skin so it keeps you dry and comfortable."
Visitors to Painted Sky Farm are encouraged to compare alpaca fiber to wool for themselves.
The farm also features a gift shop loaded with sweaters, scarves, hats, socks, gloves and other items – including felted soap – all made with alpaca fiber.
Page 2 of 2 - "Right now, all of our clothing items are purchased from free-trade shops that specialize in items made from alpaca fiber," Linda said. "But, staring next month, we'll have baskets of yarn spun by local craftsman that will be sold with a photo of the alpaca it came from, and in the future, we're hoping to eventually offer clothing made from the fiber of our herd."
For more information about Painted Sky Alpaca Farm or to schedule a tour, call (302) 540-7574, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit their website www.paintedskyalpacafarm.com.