Home on the range

FERRISBURGH For Al and Elaine Viscido, owners of Green Mountain Alpaca Farm on Pea Ridge Road in Ferrisburgh, alpaca ranching is more than a business, its a passion. With stunning views looking west with Lake Champlain and the high peaks of the Adirondacks in the distance you might just think youve reached the halcyon ends of the Earth. The Viscidos purchased their first Peruvian alpacas in 1998. The herd grew from there and despite a ban on the importation of animals from Peru (initiated by the Peruvian government to protect native alpaca herds), the Viscidos have been nurturing their crias (babies) and watching them mature into sturdy adults. Green Mountain Alpaca Farms newest addition is little Sarah, born Sept. 5, and named in honor of the owners favorite 2008 vice presidential candidate Gov. Sarah Plain of Alaska. If it had been born a male, the cria would likely have sported the named John. Sarahs mother died right after childbirth, said Elaine Viscido. So weve been bottle feeding her on goats milk. Shes also been helping herself to other nursing mothers in the herd. The cria, now a little over two months old, is frisky and a herd standout. Despite being an orphan, the other alpacas have welcomed the scrappy little survivor into the fold. And just like her maverick namesake, we havent seen the last of little Sarah shes a fighter. The Viscidos keep donkeys within the farms corral; apparently wandering coyotes are spooked by the large animals and keep their distance. Coyote attacks are always a concern at Vermont alpaca farms. Aside from observing the curious ways of alpacas, the Viscidos have enjoyed the benefits of seeing apparel products produced from their herds top-end fiber. Alpaca fiber is warmer than wool, said Elaine, and its even softer than cashmere. It really is the best natural fiber in the world. The new trend in the alpaca-raising world is to maintain DNA records of animals. Since Peruvian alpacas are no longer available here, U.S. livestock breeders will rely on this database in the future to better manage these thoroughbred animals in North America. A recent Wall Street Journal news story mentioned how alpaca farming is one of the few growth businesses around despite the world financial crisis, Al Viscido said. I think thats why you see more alpaca farms springing up in Vermont its a dynamite investment opportunity with tax advantages. Despite the financial rewards, the Viscidos are approaching retirement; theyd like to ease out of the business that requires 24/7 devotion. We plan on downsizing and probably relocating out-of-state to where our kids live, Al said. Were willing to talk with serious individuals who might be interested in our herd. Itll be a turnkey operation; a buyer can even keep the herd right here at our farm. Call us and well talk. For a business venture that has had many personal rewards, the Viscidos are understandably a little sad to have to part with their magnificent herd. Meanwhile, little Sarah is bleating. She needs her morning bottle feeding. Other crias are bleating, too, as they nose through the herd to locate nursing mothers. Its getting colder outside now that its mid November. The alpacas are huddled against a stiff wind skating west across the top of Pea Ridge. So, duty calls yet again. Elaine and Al Viscido bundle up and head across a gravel lot to the big corral to tend to the herd. Its another day of chores on a Vermont alpaca farm. For information about Green Mountain Alpaca Farm, located at 406 Pea Ride Rd. in Ferrisburgh, call the Viscidos at 802-877-2957 or 802-989-0299.

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