Jun 23 2012
When I spend the night at Sally and Tom Schmidt’s bed and breakfast near De Pere, the other guests include three girls from Dubuque who definitely see more action than I do, but that’s by design.
My stay lasts one quiet night and involves long, sound sleep. They will linger two or three weeks and go home pregnant.
What we all experience is not a tawdry bordello but a neat, 12.5-acre farm with about 45 curious, sweet-faced alpacas. I sleep upstairs, in a comfy bedroom whose window overlooks a field of the grazing animals. The Dubuque dams are outside, segregated from the others but with ample room to run, saunter or hide inside shelter.
The visiting animals are here to be bred by the award-winning Galileo, which the Schmidts co-own with other farmers. Galileo is a seven-time “get of sire” winner, which is pretty respectable in the world of alpacas.
Me? I just want to leave a little less clueless about the animals, their owners and the B&B farm stay.
Sabamba Alpaca Ranch Bed and Breakfast opened in 2009, seven years after Sally and Tom returned to their native Wisconsin from California. They wanted to be close to aging relatives, who now live only 10 minutes away.
“We moved to a house in Green Bay, purchased rental property and thought we’d be landlords,” Sally says, but the couple re-evaluated after their youngest child graduated from high school.
Although “we like people, and I like to cook,” Tom vetoed her idea to open a bed-and-breakfast in a three-story Victorian house. He is a self-employed computer programmer who was raised on a dairy farm near Kaukauna and envisioned the good life in another way.
The couple began to consider alpacas because of the viable industry they noticed in California. “People were buying them for a lot of money because of the novelty of the animal,” Sally says. Paying $25,000 for a female, at the time, wasn’t unusual.
The overall market and demand have cooled since then, but the breeding, fleece and companionship of alpacas remain as draws. Alpaca wool is not as heavy or itchy as sheep’s wool; Sally compares the feel to a cross between cashmere and silk.
The Schmidt herd is sheared once a year, and the animals are low-maintenance pets. “I call it cheater farming” because it’s not as time-consuming as traditional dairy farming, Sally says. “If you provide the proper conditions, these animals stay healthy.”
She, Tom and a Two Rivers alpaca owner attended an auction while visiting a daughter in Oregon in 2006. That’s where the Schmidts bought their first alpacas, dams Karousel and Silver Rose (which they still own), and part-ownership in Galileo.
So the couple had the start of a herd but needed farmland. What they found had a farmhouse in need of an overhaul and updating. By the time the project was finished in 2007, Tom and Sally had immersed themselves in the world of alpacas.
“We went to seminars and learned about the animals – how to halter and train them, trim their toenails, help them during birth,” Sally says. “All these ‘firsts’ are behind us.”
Overnight visitors stay in one of two upstairs bedrooms, have access to a roomy living room with fireplace and front-row views of alpaca life. Watching a slow sunset from a porch rocking chair is a bonus.
“People interested in alpacas stay here to see what it’s like to have an alpaca ranch,” Sally notes. The simply curious can – depending upon personal inclination and time of year – see these animals play, get sheared, give birth and – yes – breed.
Visitors pet the alpacas and walk them (“What if they don’t want to go for a walk,” I ask. “We pick the ones that do,” Sally replies.) “The animals can sense whether you are in a good mood,” she says. “When you’re not, they don’t want to have anything to do with you.”
When I visit, Annalies and Black Pearl are due to give birth, but it doesn’t happen before I leave. Timing is everything, although alertness counts, too. Sally says a mere 45 minutes typically passes between the start of a dam’s contractions and delivery.
Each of the animals has a story, which the innkeepers are eager to share. I hear about Seymour, born at the 2010 Outagamie County Fair, and Moses, whose birth weight was almost 50 percent more than average.
A first-timer, like me, will see a herd of inquisitive but shy animals. Sally and Tom see individual personalities and quirks. Now they occasionally host seminars for new and wannabe alpaca owners, answering the same questions they had only a few years ago.
For more about Sabamba Alpaca Ranch Bed and Breakfast, 2338 Hickory Rd., De Pere: sabambaalpaca.com, 920-371-0003. Overnight rates are $99 to $115. A two-night stay, which includes a hands-on introduction to alpacas, costs an extra $100.
Breakfast specialties include blueberry-pecan French toast, plus fresh fruit served in a crust of nuts and dried fruit, then drizzled with a honey syrup.
The Schmidts sell products made with alpaca fiber – scarves, sweaters, socks, mittens, gloves, toys and blankets – at the farm and online.
For more about alpacas, consult the Tennessee-based Alpaca Owners and Breeders Association at alpacainfo.com and 615-834-4195.