Hometown Adventures: Alpaca Farm

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HARDY, Va. (WDBJ7) Robbin Martinelli and her husband, Jay Pratley, own an alpaca farm at Smith Mountain Lake.

In our latest Hometown Adventure, Caitlin Francis takes us on a tour of their alpaca farm, Alpacas of Smith Mountain Lake!

They moved from Connecticut to Virginia in 2010 after stumbling upon the lake, by accident.

“We actually thought we were going to end up in North Carolina, because we had family from there moving down south, but we couldn’t find what we wanted in North Carolina,” Robbin Martinelli said. “We’re all water skiers, we wanted to be on a lake that didn’t have a nuclear plant, we wanted to be in an area that still had agriculture, but also had a little bit of tourism, and definitely had a hometown feel.”

They found that here. They moved with 23 alpacas, and the farm has grown.

“We’re actually the only alpaca farm in the nation, out of 4,000 alpaca farms, that does everything that we do. We are total fiber to fashion, education, we create products, we have online business, retail business, the list goes on and on.”

With around 70 alpacas on the farm at all time, they’re able to do all of that. And it’s a huge draw for visitors.

“We do over 2,000 visitors a year on our farm. They come through from all over the country, they come by bus-loads. A lot of them are visitors to the area that come with their families. But this is an educational tour so it’s not just a little petting zoo kind of thing,” Martinelli said.

Every wonder what the difference is between an alpaca and a llama?

This is the most popular question Robbin Martinelli says they get. The answer is simple and complicated all at the same time.

“They have very different personalities. Llamas are guards, alpacas are very shy. And they’re used for different things. Llamas are used as a guard or beast of burden or for backpacking, and things like that. Alpacas are solely used for their fiber. They are again, the most sought after fiber, the most luxurious fiber in the world,” she said.

Robbin Martinelli says for the most part, people don’t understand the difference between the two animals because of political issues and sanctions with Peru, alpacas and alpaca products disappeared from the U.S. from the 1960’s to 1983.

“And that’s why so many people are like, ‘what’s an alpaca?’ they see llamas, they know what a llama is, but llamas are 400 lbs., alpacas only get up to 150-180 lbs., even our major males don’t usually crack 200 lbs.”

They gave me the dime tour; just a small fraction of what visitors get.

And you definitely get a lot of great information, but you do also get to pet and hold them! Which is the best part!

Juna Rosa is one of the newest alpacas on the farm. And like little Juna Rosa, all of the alpacas have names, and the farm owners know them all.

“They actually have a very cat-like personality, in the way that they’re aloof. So they may not want to come by their names, but certainly know their names, they’re all named, they’re all registered, DNA blood-carded, all of those good things,” Robbin Martinelli said.

And all of those good things are important for breeding alpacas because they’re worth so much. Robbin Martinelli says alpaca fiber is the most luxurious in the world, and the fiber collected from their alpacas is used by big designers.

“We’re part of a program that collects the highest grade alpaca fiber in the nation, so I never know exactly where it goes,” she said. “I do know we were a big part of the collection that went out to the Ralph Lauren sweater that was for the Olympics, but also we were just up in NY a few months ago, and just sold a whole bunch of our fiber to another project that is going to end up going out to another Ralph Lauren project as well.”

They have their own shop right up the street from the farm, all within miles from the lake.

“They have sweet disposition about them, and they have a very calming effect on us, whether we’re around them, wearing it, sleeping on it, whatever it is, they just have a very special and unique way about them.”

If you’d like to schedule an educational tour, or visit their shop, you can learn more about the farm by visiting their website at: http://www.smithmountainlakefarm.com/ and you call 540-719-0281.