Kensington Prairie Farm
Here’s something that might blow your mind: alpacas aren’t llamas. Okay, maybe you already knew that, but it’s a common misconception because they look so similar. But while they’re from the same family, they’re not the same species. “I just tell people if they have banana ears, they’re llamas,” says Catherine Simpson, who runs Kensington Prairie Farm in Langley, home to 50 alpacas. Alpacas have shorter pointy ears, plus they don’t grow quite as big and they have much softer fleece than their llama cousins. Huh. Now you know.
It’s that fleece that drew Catherine to the animals about 20 years go. She and her partner, Jim Dales, bought a five-acre parcel of land on the Cloverdale Flats in Surrey and thought it would be nice to have some animals. The tricky part was deciding which animals. After doing a bit of research, Catherine settled on alpacas.
“I’m a real tactile person,” she says. “It was the fibre that intrigued me. That’s my favourite aspect of alpaca farming: the yarn I produce and the things I can have made from it.”
They started with 16 alpacas but soon outgrew their land in Surrey so made the move to a 45-acre farm in Langley, which was well set-up for alpaca farming. Along the way, Catherine quit her job in public administration and dove into learning all she could about alpacas and their luxurious fleece.
“When I started, I learned to sort, I learned to grade, I learned genetics,” she says. “I learned breeding practices. I got better and better at breeding and improving the quality of my herd.”
Each spring, Kensington’s herd of about 50 alpacas is sheared, yielding about eight pounds of fleece per animal. That fleece is graded and sorted by colour and length and then sent out for processing. Fleece from the farm is sold as raw fleece, spun into various types of yarn and even woven or knit into products like throws, scarves, hats and mittens, which Catherine sells at the farm’s on-site store (soon to be online as well). They also sell alpaca hides and meat products. All of their own products are made in Canada.
She’s also traveled many times to Peru, the homeland of alpacas, to learn about the animal, and is a wholesaler of Peruvian alpaca products, which are also available in her shop. As cute as alpacas are (“They’re SO cute,” Catherine says), they’re not pets.
“I’m a farmer, not a pet owner,” she says. “People have a difficult time with that when they come over, but really, go to South America—there aren’t any pet alpacas down there. They’re a commercial animal.”
Educating visitors about alpacas and alpaca ownership is a big part of Catherine’s mission at Kensington Prairie Farm. Because alpacas are so cute and generally well mannered, she often gets inquiries from non-farmers looking to buy one or two.
“People think they’re going to get a couple pets. And they get them and they haven’t got a clue what they’re doing. And they realize all the sudden they need care and they need to be fed and they need to be shorn and they need to have their toenails cut.”
They’re a lot of work, which has led to a bit of a problem of neglected or, worse yet, rejected alpacas ending up rescued by the SPCA, by Catherine herself or being auctioned off at livestock auctions, an unfortunate reality that Catherine wishes she saw less of.
At the farm, visitors can swing by to visit the store or see the alpacas. They’re naturally very shy animals so no touching is allowed, though the animals likely wouldn’t even get close enough. The farm is also home to 50 head of Polled Hereford cattle, chickens, honeybees and a couple of family Briard dogs – Chloe and Finny.
Each April, visitors can watch the alpaca shearing in action. Stay tuned to Kensington Prairie Farm’s Facebook page for details.
Experience Kensington Prairie Farm
Visit the farm and shop at 1736 248 Street in Langley
Friday: 12:00 pm – 5:00 pm
Saturday: 10:00 am – 4:00 pm
Sunday: 12:00 pm – 4:00 pm
Private tours can be booked in advance and take place on Mondays – Thursdays
Check them out online, or follow them on Facebook to learn more about the alpacas and to find out about shearing dates in the spring.
Images courtesy of Kensington Prairie Farms.