Looking for something different to do this summer? Visiting an alpaca ranch in Eastern Iowa may be the summer treat you’ve been looking for.
“Be careful,” warns Jody Ehler of J&J Alpacas, a farm in Muscatine. “Alpacas are adorable and addictive!” J&J is one of several in the area that welcome visitors.
With their supersoft fur, expressive eyes, and gentle manner, alpacas have grown in popularity since they were first imported to the U.S. in 1984. Native to the Andes Mountains, alpacas are a domesticated version of wild Peruvian vicuñas and a cousin to the llama. While llamas are larger and weigh up to 400 pounds, alpacas don’t get much bigger than 175 pounds.
When visiting a ranch, you will most likely run into two breeds of alpaca: Huacaya (pronounced wah‑kai‑ya) and Suri (soo‑ree). Huacaya alpacas resemble fluffy teddy bears, whereas Suri alpacas have fleece that cascades in pencil locks.
Alpacas do not have biting teeth and are bashfully sweet, so they pose no danger to visiting tourists or each other. According to the Alpaca Owners Association, if an alpaca does “reflexively kick with its hind legs . . . the soft padded feet usually do little more than just get your attention.”
What about alpaca spit? The chances of an alpaca spitting on you are actually quite low—unless you’re standing in the crossfire of a male alpaca argument. Alpacas don’t generally spit on humans (or each other, for that matter) unless you’re encroaching on their “food space.”
If driving to see these fluffy, exotic animals sounds like a road trip you’d like to take, make sure you plan in advance. You’ll find several nearby ranches you can visit, but all request reservations or advance notice.
Apple Blossom Alpaca Ranch
Apple Blossom Alpaca Ranch is located just 30 minutes from Fairfield in Wayland. Owners Brian Pattyson (said to be a descendant of Johnny Appleseed) and his wife Marianne maintain the 130-acre restored 1830s ranch, where they currently care for 19 alpacas. A few of them are baby alpacas, called “cria,” ranging from 10 days to 1 year old, and more may be on the way.
The couple caters to a variety of groups for visits or fundraisers. “People often find alpacas very therapeutic,” says Marianne. “Yeah,” Brian adds, “the only problem for guests is that they don’t want to leave!”
All of their alpacas are named in honor of Brian’s ancestor, Johnny Appleseed, and you may hear names like Cinnamon Applesauce, Applecrisp, or Macintosh. From time to time you may see the cria running through pasture playing.
Brian and Marianne offer tours of the ranch by appointment only. The fee for a one-hour tour is $10 for adults and $5 for children (10 and under are free). They also offer special pricing for group events. During the tour, the Pattysons provide grain so you can hand-feed the alpacas, and guests are invited to bring their lunch, sit on the deck or a picnic blanket, and watch the herd graze.
Apple Blossom Ranch also sells a beautiful array of alpaca fur products such as socks, scarves, dolls, dryer balls, and bird nests. Marianne says visitors are fascinated to learn about the processing of alpaca fur and how they make their fiber art products.
Compared to sheep fleece, alpaca fleece is lighter and more durable, warm, and resilient. Aside from being soothingly soft, alpaca fur is also flame resistant. There are also finer grades available, known as baby alpaca fleece, which is believed to be hypo-allergenic. This means the fur will not irritate skin, as sheep’s wool sometimes does.
Apple Blossom Alpaca Ranch is located at 1009 Dakota Avenue, just north of Highway 78. Call Brian or Marianne at (319) 256-4646 to schedule a visit.
If you’d like to get a bit more familiar with the process of raising alpacas, J&J Alpacas might be the place to visit. From time to time, they solicit volunteers for shearing and other odd jobs. The ranch is open to the public for free on weekends but does not offer official tours. Evening visits from 6:30 p.m. to sunset are also possible. They appreciate a few days’ notice before you come. Contact Jody at (319) 350-5994.
Other Places to Visit
In addition to alpacas, Frerichs Alpaca Farm in West Branch raises a variety of other animals like chickens, pot-bellied pigs, horses, rabbits, and peacocks. Contact Lisa and Tracey to schedule a visit at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Silver Bell Hollow, an alpaca ranch located in rural Illinois just east of Muscatine, is hosting a special summer event on June 22 that features a meet and greet with the alpacas, followed by refreshments and an outdoor concert by the Front Porch Pickers. Tickets are $13.50 and seating is limited, so make sure you purchase tickets in advance. They also host special events throughout the year and offer visits by appointment. Silver Bell Hollow is located at 13111 311th St. W., Illinois City, Illinois, (309) 738-0402.