Blue Moon Ranch’s open barn gives a peek at alpacas (w/video) | ParkRecord.com

Blue Moon Ranch’s open barn gives a peek at alpacas (w/video)

For the past two decades, Blue Moon Ranch owner Linda Gardner and her husband Ed Heintz have hosted numerous open barn days to introduce the public to alpacas, the soft and fuzzy, llama-like mammals native to the Andes.

"It was very small when we started, and it was just to show our neighbors we weren't crazy for having these 'long-necked sheep,'" Gardner said. "I enjoy educating people that (alpacas) don't just spit at you. You know, that common misconception."

The next open barn day is scheduled to be held from 1-4 p.m. on Saturday, May 19. The event, which is free and open to the public, will allow people a close-up view of the 45 alpacas that are raised on the nearly seven-acre farm.

"We'll have volunteers on hand to answer any questions, and we also have a gallery of frequently asked questions posted on the fences," Gardner said.

The open barn day will also be held at a time when people can visit Ya Ya's Yarn Barn and purchase an array of alpaca goodies, Gardner said.

"Sometimes the guys don't want to go into the yarn barn because they think it's all just yarn, but it's not," she said.

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It's more like a gift shop that features roving fleece for spinners, spun yarn for knitters, framed alpaca photos taken by Gardner, finished gloves, hats, and a variety of handmade soaps.

"I've revamped the soaps, and made them a different size and lowered the price," she said.

Ya Ya's Yarn Barn will also sell ceramic yarn bowls by Chikamu Arts, which is based in Oakley.

"My grandson first called me Ya Ya, and I knew I had to use that for the Yarn Barn," Gardner said.

The ranch owner said she enjoys hosting open barn days because she gets to meet people who have never seen an alpaca.

"I like showing people what we make from alpaca fiber, and maybe convincing people who have some land that, 'wouldn't this be a fun thing to do?'" Gardner said.

While alpacas are intelligent, beautiful animals that take care of their young, they are also vulnerable to predators, she said.

"They have soft feet, so they can't kick," Gardner said. "They have only bottom teeth so they can't bite, which makes them sweet for people. They are also very gentle on the land, so even in a muddy pasture, we don't get the mudholes, and they don't rip up the grass by the roots."

Blue Moon Ranch is patrolled by three guardian dogs that protect the alpacas.

"The dogs instinctively need something to take care of, and I can't imagine doing this without the dogs, because they follow the alpacas everywhere they go," Gardner said.

There are 45 alpacas in the Blue Moon Ranch herd this spring, and of those, 11 are males.

"This is the smallest herd we've had in many years," Gardner said. "We sold quite a few last year. We didn't have any babies born last year, either. So that cut the herd down, but it's been very manageable."

Gardner said some of the females are pregnant and the babies, called "cria," will start arriving in June.

"I know when their due dates are, but alpacas don't believe in due dates," Gardner laughed. "I don't think I've ever had one born on the actual date that I look for."

Saturday's open barn day will take place two weeks before the alpacas are sheared.

"The alpacas are full fleece, so this is as fluffy as you will ever see them," Gardner said.

Each animal gives between three and five pounds of prime fleece each year.

"The very finest stuff is made into yarn, and the coarser stuff is made into yarn for rugs," Gardner said. "Some of it we make bird-nesting balls and dryer balls."

The open barn day will be held rain or shine.

"It's a fun afternoon," Gardner said. "I look forward to introducing the herd to the public. (The animals) grabbed my soul and haven't let go yet. I cannot imagine waking up and not seeing alpacas."

An open barn day will run from 1-4 p.m. on Saturday, May 19, at Blue Moon Ranch Alpacas, 3535 S. 1000 East, in Woodland. The event is free and open to the public. For information, visit http://www.bluemoonranch.net.