Blue Moon Ranch wants to share the alpaca experience
September 20, 2016
Blue Moon Alpaca Ranch's annual Open Barn Days event has gained popularity over the past 12 years.
"We did it casually before that," said ranch owner Linda Gardner during a Park Record interview. "We just opened up a weekend to show the neighbors what we do.
"You know, when you're in cattle country and horse country, alpacas are something different," she said. "So, we wanted to show people that alpacas are gentle animals, curious animals, intelligent animals, and they make beautiful fiber. That's how we started it all and then the open barn day became a way to market our yarn that we make from our alpaca fiber."
This year's Open Barn Days will be held at the ranch, 3535 S. 1000 East in Woodland, on Sept. 24 and 25, from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m.
The free event will be highlighted by farm tours that will introduce people to the alpacas and yarn-spinning demonstrations.
Visitors will also have the chance to purchase alpaca fleece, yarn, scarves, homemade soaps and batts, which are 36-inch pieces of alpaca fleece fiber that can be spun to make yarn.
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A new item this year is a "vegetarian pelt" or "felt pelt," Gardner said.
"We call it that because it looks like a pelt, and we make it out of the alpaca fiber, but the alpaca is still alive in the pasture," she said. "We have a girl in Salt Lake City who does this for me."
The pelts are made by felting, which uses hot water, soap and agitation.
"All the fibers clump together and she gets it all together and then takes a brush and fluffs it up, so it looks like a real pelt," Gardner said. "She had done some with sheep's wool, and wanted to see how alpaca wool would do."
Most of the alpaca fiber items that will be on display or offered for purchase during the event were made from the fleece of the Blue Moon Ranch alpacas.
"I've got new rug yarn that we'll bring out as well," Gardner said. "The yarn made from our alpacas is usually labeled with the picture and name of the animal where the fleece came from.
"We have the sheering in June and try to get as much done as we can by the end of September," she said. "We usually sell enough to buy the year's worth of hay."
Gardner also made other items such as soaps, alpaca portraits and frames. The items that aren't made by her include some wearable items and ceramics.
"In early September, I start to look at my inventory and order what I need," she said.
In its formative years, Open Barn Days used to be stressful for Gardner and her husband Ed Heintz.
"It was us trying to set everything up for this two-day event in a few hours," Gardner said.
That was before she opened what is known as Ya Ya's Yarn Barn, a small shed that also serves as a shop where Gardner can sell her yarn and other wares.
"With the Yarn Barn, we are able to keep the yarn sales going the whole year," she said. "We opened it three years ago and it has made such a difference with being able to have visitors come more frequently."
This year, Gardner started charging for private one-hour tours.
"I was doing four or five free tours every week and couldn't get anything done, which was hard because I need to work so I can buy hay to feed the alpacas," she said. "So, I decided to charge for tours, because I thought that would stop some people from coming, so I could work more."
That didn't happen.
"People still come for the tours, but that's good because I can make some money to help with buying the feed," she said "So, we're booking tours now for October."
The tours are an hour long and tourists get to mingle with the alpacas, however, on Open Barn Days the alpacas are behind fences, but people can still pet them and get close to them when they come up to the fences, according to Gardner.
Because of the nature of the event and the gentle disposition of the alpacas, visitors are asked to leave their dogs and other pets at home.
"We will feature seven new alpacas that were born this year," she said. "The most recent, Flavia, a tiny, white female, was born August 23."
In addition to Gardner and Heintz, Open Barn Days will feature a handful of guides who will be on hand to answer any questions about alpacas and alpaca farming, which was something they got into in 1998.
"The first time I saw an alpaca face, I knew that I wanted to raise them," Gardner said. "At that time, we lived in a normal house in Sandy with a small backyard. It wasn't like I had livestock experience or property to use. So, we moved so we could raise these animals."
Blue Moon Alpaca Ranch, 3535 S. 1000 East in Woodland, will host Open Barn Days on Saturday, Sept. 24, and Sunday, Sept. 25, from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. For more information, visit bluemoonranch.net/nafd.