New Jersey is home to dozens of alpaca farms. Here’s how to
mingle with the fluffy herds. By Molly Petrilla
hen she started
retirement in 1993,
Barb Nuessle had
never even heard of
alpacas. She worked
in TV market research at the time, and
her husband, Warren, led a Philadel-
phia-based executive-search firm. They
bought an old Cape May dairy farm and
prepared to spend their golden years
there. But what about those 10 empty
acres that once sprouted lima beans?
Nuessle weighed her options. She
thought about growing wine grapes, or
maybe herbs. Then she settled on sheep.
No, goats. She went to a few farm shows
and wound up at the Eastern Alpaca
Rendezvous in Malvern, Pennsylvania.
“I saw these cute animals and I
thought, that’s it!” Nuessle says. “I love
to knit, so the fiber was a big factor. Just
having a supply of that yarn around was
intoxicating. Plus it offered a tax shelter
and seemed like a good investment
option—there were only about 7,500
alpacas in the country at that time.”
It’s been 16 years since the Nuessles
brought home their first five alpacas.
Now they own 23, and their fiber
business is thriving. Bay Springs Farm
greeted 5,000 visitors last year. Some
shopped for alpacas for their own
farms; others cruised the yarn selection.
Many just wanted to meet the plush
pack animals in person.
Bay Springs is one of numerous
alpaca farms you can visit in the Garden
State. The national Alpaca Owners Association (AOA) says more than 5,000
alpacas are registered in New Jersey.
The exact number of farms is unavailable, but at least 35 are active members
of the New Jersey Alpaca Community.
In spite of the interest, there has been
a falloff in alpaca farming nationwide.
The AOA says only 8,966 new alpacas
were registered across the United States
last year, compared to 20,679 in 2008.
And Nuessle says many alpaca farms in
New Jersey shut down in recent years
as farmers retired, faced slow sales, or
chose to keep just a few alpacas instead
of running large breeding operations.
For visitors, each farm has its own
policies and quirks. Some welcome
hand-feeding; others favor look-don’t-touch. Some have herds of more than
100; others a dozen. Most of the larger
farms have stores that sell alpaca goods
and yarn, which makes them a big draw
for knitters and crocheters. Nuessle has
a fiber store at Bay Springs Farm (609-
884-0563; bayspringsalpacas.com) that’s
open every Saturday and Sunday from
10 AM to 4 PM. She invites people to visit