Knock, knock

It could be an Island alpaca at your door.

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You could send flowers or chocolates to that someone special in your life, or you could send a personalized message delivered by a friendly, furry, four-legged friend. An Alpaca-Gram might just be the most unique gift you can give for Valentine’s Day or Mother’s Day or for a special birthday or graduation present.

Barbara Ronchetti of Island Alpaca started the Alpaca-Gram service a few years ago and says that, among the many recipients, all noted that it was the most unique gift they have ever received. One man actually popped the question with the help of two alpacas — one with a sign around his neck that read “Will You?” while his companion added the “Marry Me.” Of course the delighted girlfriend couldn’t refuse a proposal like that.

Alpacas are non-aggressive and much more approachable than their cousin camelid, llamas. Most don’t mind some petting and snuggling, especially from kids. Some even actively encourage it. For the Alpaca-Grams, Ronchetti sends one of the more affectionate herd members to interact with the humans. And, she notes, they don’t mind dressing up for the occasion (think scarf and birthday cake hat) and actually really enjoy the car ride.

The Alpaca-Gram experience includes a furry greeting complete with personalized message, a $50 gift bag hand (toe?) delivered (Alpacas actually have a pad with two large toenails, not hooves) and enough time for photos and greetings. You can also pay extra for a more extended visit.

For those who prefer to visit the herd, Island Alpaca currently has 31 animals, including two youngsters. If the weather permits, the herd can be found grazing outdoors behind a fence where they are reachable for petting. Otherwise you can visit them in the barn which also houses the gift shop. Island Alpaca is open year-round with no admission fee in the off season.

Alpacas come in a wide range of colors, all of which are represented in the yarn and many of the hand-knit products offered in the shop. Knitters can purchase yarn from a specific animal with his or her name on the label. After the shearing in the spring, Ronchetti sends half of the fleece to a New England-based fiber cooperative and keeps the softest for yarn and to farm out to local knitters for hats, scarves, mittens, and baby clothes which she sells in the shop. (Ronchetti is always looking for new knitters.)

Alpaca fiber is called fleece. Unlike wool, each fiber has an air pocket that provides for maximum warmth and natural wicking. Aside from the camelids (camels, llamas, and alpacas) the only other animal with similarly hollow hair is the polar bear. Alpaca fleece is also hypoallergenic. Depending on where on the animal the fleece comes from, the fiber comes in a variety of grades — with the softest found on the back. Alpaca fleece has high tensile strength which means it doesn’t pill like wool can. Prices vary by the grade of the fleece.

Fleece from the Island Alpaca herd has garnered numerous awards, as have the animals themselves.

Along with locally made items, the gift shop also offers alpaca sweaters, blankets, jackets,vests, socks and slippers, along with lots of alpaca themed toys, jewelry and gift items. How about a teddy bear made from silky soft alpaca fleece or a pendant featuring an alpaca shaped clam shell or glass bead?

One of the newest additions to the gift shop inventory is an attractive handbag/tote made from a combination of recycled corded material and braided alpaca made by the alpaca co-op with local fiber. These colorful bags, featuring either bright or pastel hues, are all one of a kind works of art.

For those looking for a real commitment, Ronchetti has a number of alpacas for sale, many from champion bloodlines. You can also sponsor the alpaca of your choice, with the proceeds going to the animal’s upkeep.

Guided alpaca walks are a popular offering at the farm. You can personally lead a member of the herd around the property, with a stop off for photos and snuggles. During the warmer months, the farm also hosts alpaca yoga twice a week.

So, if you feel up to braving the cold for the visit to the farm, you’ll find lots to entertain and educate yourself and your family. But if someone on your Valentine or Mother’s Day gift list is more into hibernating for now, why not send an alpaca over for a visit. Chances are he or she will enjoy the outing as much as anyone.

Island Alpaca farm and gift shop is open seven days a week from 10 am to 4 pm. Everything is 14 percent off in February, in honor of Valentine’s Day. Shearing day will take place in April. For information about Alpaca-Grams, sponsorships and more, visit islandalpaca.com.