The paved driveway winds through a woodlot accented with redbuds and dogwoods. It ends in a circle at the garage. Twin Bradford pear trees shade and support a lacy, braided cotton hammock within the circle drive and periwinkle shutters accent a pastel brick home to which the garage is attached. It’s all sitting in a sea of green.
Cattle panels form a makeshift funnel as Tom Mosby herds his livestock from barn lot to garage where a crew of workers here all the way from Colorado ready their equipment for the farm’s harvest. Tom’s wife of nearly 33 years, Frances, is busy handing name tags to the minor crowd. “It’ll help us keep up with who’s who,” she says.
Tom tries to push the herd though the funnel with help from a neighbor, and one animal squirts around the end. The blue rope stretched between Tom and the helper just isn’t long enough. An animal from the main herd voices its concerns with a voice best described as the sound you would expect from a baby wookie. Big brown eyes shine out from shaggy heads as the remainder of the herd bleat and shuffle toward the gate.
Herding with a blue rope? Voice of a baby wookie? That’s right. Welcome to a more genteel form of agriculture. Welcome to Edge of Eden Alpaca Farm where everything from the land to the house to the animals is so darn adorable you’d half expect to see a garden full of gumdrops fertilized with unicorn manure and watered with rainbow mist from a cotton candy cloud. I might be stretching into hyperbole a bit here, but only just a bit.
Agriculture is all around us here in the River Valley. I’ve watched and helped work cattle, load hogs and catch chickens. Herding alpacas, in comparison, is like herding long-necked teddy bears. “You haven’t been kicked by one,” says Ted Harmon, one of Tom’s neighbors who pitched in to help with the annual alpaca shearing.
True, but I’ll bet their kicks are closer to butterfly kisses. Anything this cute surely can’t hurt you.
“They look like fuzzy deer,” says ABOUT’s photographer, Liz Chrisman. “I want one.” And who wouldn’t?
Alpacas are native to South America. They are a domesticated member of the camelid family — the camels. Cousins to those lumpy desert beasts of burden found in Asia and Africa, the alpaca’s closest relative is the vicuna, a very similar wild animal found in the Andes Mountains of South America. The vicuna and the larger guanaco are the wild forms of the alpaca and the llama. But, to be clear, they are all distinct species. Domestication through thousands of years built a distance between the wild and tame similar to, but not so physically dramatic as, the distance between Holstein cattle and the auroch, or wild cattle.
Alpacas are on the small side when it comes to livestock, but they can fool you. One of the helpers asks about their weight and we are all shocked when Joshua Pitzel, a member of the shearing crew called Top Knot Shearers, responds with “a big one will weigh about 140 pounds.”
An adult alpaca’s back will come up to about waist high on most adult humans, but a fluffy pre-sheared alpaca looks to be nearing every bit of three hundred pounds. It’s all wool, though. After shearing — a surprisingly gentle process that takes about eight minutes thanks to an experienced crew and docile animals — the alpaca’s true mass is revealed. And it ain’t much. Imagine an average Arkansas whitetail deer doe with three times as much neck. That’s a sheared alpaca.
Gangly and looking a bit silly, they still manage to be charming even after their fuzziness is gone. It must be those sweet brown eyes. Frances is a sucker for sweet brown eyes, and shaggy noggins, and wookie bleats. It’s why the Mosby’s herd has grown since that first alpaca purchased in 2005 to 31 animals on 28 acres. The Mosbys say it’s because alpaca prices have fallen and they’ve found ways to make money from alpaca fleece, but Frances’ tender heart may have a lot to do with it. As a child, she once swore off of eating eggs. “My parents couldn’t convince me that the eggs from the store didn’t have baby chickens in them,” says Frances.
Frances gets attached. “I get real attached,” she says. She can look into the face of any member of her herd and know who it is. Most of the alpacas are named for family events that coincided with the animals birth or date of purchase. “Shreveport was born on the weekend Tom went to Shreveport to help our daughter,” says Frances. “Silver Anniversary Edition was born on our 25th anniversary.”
As the crew secures and shears the animals, I notice Joshua has a sock in each back pocket. Odd… What’s with the socks? “Those are for spitters,” says Joshua. So alpacas aren’t all sugar and spice. Frances later informs me that slobber drama unfolded soon after I left. “We had one absolutely fill a sock,” said Frances. It’s a surprisingly vulgar action and doesn’t line up with everything I saw from the animals, but Francis assured me that it’s not uncommon. Sometimes it even happens when all indications say that your alpaca wants a smooch. One of the Mosby alpacas named Jackson Brown (not named for a family event; Frances just likes Jackson Brown) had no sense of boundaries. “He would come up this close,” Francis waves her hand right in front of her face. “Tom would get creeped out. Well, some of my friends would talk about kissing their alpacas so I thought that’s what he wanted. I’d try that. I gave him a kiss on the nose and he just turned around and walked off. He just wanted a kiss.” Or so she thought. “So it had been a while since I gave Jackson Brown a kiss and he came up stopped like right here,” Frances extends her arm. “So I got all ready to give him a kiss and he spit on me.” Jackson Brown is no longer on the Mosby farm, but there are no hard feelings. “One of the young ladies that was helping bag fiber [at the shearing] owns Jackson Brown now and she just loves him,” says Tom.
But why alpacas? The Mosbys had horses for several years. The Mosby children (now grown) participated in a 4H horse club. But when the children reached high school “the horses weren’t getting much attention,” says Tom. “We still had a farm and the grass was growing, I just did more mowing.” A chance viewing of an alpaca commercial gave them an idea and one facet of alpaca farming really appealed to the Mosbys. “We wanted something you didn’t have to kill to have a product,” says Frances.
Another side benefit of raising docile creatures is transportation. No stock trailers needed. Edge of Eden alpacas travel in climate controlled comfort via cargo van. “They’ve got their own air-conditioning unit back there and we have books on CD for them,” says Tom. I think Tom is kidding about the books on CD… but I’m not sure. “And we rarely have a problem with them going to bathroom in the van even on long trips,” says Frances. “We stop at a rest stop, get a lead rope and halter, and walk them around.”
This gentle style of agriculture fits nicely with the Mosbys. It’s a theme that carries over to the look and function of the farm. Very little barbwire, no livestock prods, no herding dogs, though they do have a huge and lovable dog named Blondie. Blondie weighs well over 100 pounds and her personality is a mirror of the Mosbys — laid back and personable. Purple martin houses line the pond bank. The aerial acrobats flit and chirp as a warm April breeze whispers through the lilacs. But Edge of Eden is still a working farm. There’s always chores. One of the most emotionally exhausting but fulfilling jobs is being on hand whenever a baby alpaca, called a cria, is born. “I want to be there if at all possible when the birthing occurs,” says Tom. “And I’ve assisted some if it appears that the baby is getting stuck. Watching those babies get up on those wobbly legs and take their first steps is just amazing.”
The charm of Edge of Eden Alpaca Farm is hard to overstate even though it may seem like I poured the syrup pretty thick. It’s a farming practice like none I’ve ever witnessed. And I can tell you with absolute confidence that since the Mosby’s purchase of that first alpaca in 2005, no alpacas were harmed in the 10 year making of this story.