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by Peggy Miles

Birch Hill alpacas (photo: Peggy Miles)Let me tell you about a neat spot in Birch Hill where you can pack a lunch and visit alpacas. A member of the camel family, the alpaca has a similar look to a llama, but is roughly half the size. While llamas were bred as pack animals, alpacas have been bred for thousands of years for their luxury fibre.

Janet Ogilvie is the face of Green Gable Alpacas, a well-kept property on a century old farm where she cohabitates with a group of 45 alpacas. In addition to breeding and selling the animals to clients across the country, for a small fee the farmer offers daily tours. Families can visit with new alpaca babies, participate in daily bath time, and feed Grizwal, the farms’ lone llama.

Also on site is the Fibre House Boutique, a rustic retail shop housed in the former dairy farm’s milk house. Open to the public, it features a broad selection of raw fibre and yarns, as well as alpaca fashions including knitted and woven items. Alpaca fleece is harvested annually and it is oh so soft. Resistant to odors, items made from alpaca don’t require frequent washing and is not prickly like sheep’s wool. Alpacas produce fibre in 22 natural colours.

Green Gables Alpacas was established in 2009; Janet and her daughter Rachel moved to the 11-acre farm from Hamilton, Ontario in January of 2010. Six weeks later their first shipment of alpacas arrived in PEI.

The entrepreneur’s background as a Registered Veterinary Technician has been helpful, but Janet says that alpaca farming is not as rigorous as other types of traditional farm operations. “The most elaborate equipment I have is an ATV, trailer, rake and a shovel.”

She says that the adjustment to rural Island life has not been as overwhelming as some might expect. “There is a calmness here. The people, geography and pace are all really therapeutic.”

Ogilvie lost her daughter Amanda suddenly in 2007. The tragedy has had a profound effect and has shifted the way she approaches life. In setting up the farm her attitude became, “What have I got to lose? If I have to go back (to Ontario), so what?” It appears Ogilvie is far from leaving behind the successful business and way of life she’s established. During a recent Open Farm Day, hundreds of visitors to her property explored with interest as she confidently shared with them the story of her farm.

“I don’t like to look too far ahead into the future. But I plan to be here.” says Ogilvie. She is pleased that her livelihood provides a means for putting her daughter Rachel through university. And Amanda is never far from her thoughts. “She would have loved it. She was an animal lover. It’s only because of her.”

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