Dowagiac Alpaca farm to host open house
Once home to a stable of horses, the 12-acres of Peavine Street land owned by Dowagiac’s Ruth and Chris Szakaly is again occupied by a pack of furry, friendly, four-legged creatures.
Though they’re not exactly the kind most Cass County residents are used to seeing milling about the local countryside.
Locals will have a chance to meet the couple’s pack of alpacas during a special open house event at their farm from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 26, and Sunday, Sept. 27. Held in coordination with similar alpaca farms and ranches across the country that weekend, visitors to the Dowagiac farm will have the opportunity to learn more about the domesticated species of camelid and about the socks, stuffed animals and other products made from their soft, hypoallergenic fur, Ruth said.
“Every year, the national organization [Alpaca Owners Association], launches the fall season with a celebration of alpaca farms,” Ruth said. “It always happens near the end of September. It’s a good time for people come out to visit and to shop for alpaca apparel for the cooler weather.”
Ruth and Chris, a native of South Bend, are recent transplants to the Dowagiac area, moving from San Diego to their Pokagon Township farm last year, with their animals arriving in November, she said.
“We figured that, since we both have aging parents living here in the Midwest, we knew we would move out here eventually,” Ruth said. “We didn’t know we would end up here in Dowagiac, though we’re really happy with the location.”
The couple got into raising alpacas in 2012 while still living in California, in part to transition into a slower lifestyle and in part to fulfill one of Ruth’s longtime desires to work with the gentle, fuzzy animals, Ruth said.
“I was drawn to alpacas because you don’t eat them, they are fairly low maintenance and have phenomenal fleece that contributes to a lot of nice apparel,” Ruth said.
Alpacas, which belong to the same family as camels and llamas, are known for their luxurious coats of fur, which is generally softer than wool and, due to the lack of lanolin wax contained in sheep hair, is less likely to trigger allergic reactions, Ruth said. The animals are shorn once a year in spring, which helps them handle the warmer summer weather.
The Dowagiac couple is currently raising eight alpacas on their property, with another on the way. Being still fairly new to the business, the two are still learning the nuances of handling the livestock.
“That’s one of the most rewarding things, that you learn something new every day,” Ruth said.
Ruth and Chris also sell clothing and other items made from alpaca-fur on their business website, alpacasofchambana.com.
Still getting settled to their new home, the couple is hoping to see lots of new faces during the upcoming open house, Ruth said.
“It will be a great, fun, family-activity, and a great chance to get up and close with the animals,” Ruth said.