Heart of Louisiana: Alpaca Farm

The animals look a bit out of place in the gentle hills of northern St. Tammany Parish, but this isn't just any day on the farm.

They get tied up and stretched out. Their teeth get a spring cleaning and grinding.

Then, they get stripped, or sheared, of their thick wool coats. These animals are alpaca, a smaller cousin of the llama and part of the camel family.

Adam Riley travels the United States and parts of Europe each Spring using his shears to remove wool that's taken an entire year to grow.

"I've worked with a lot of different livestock and I feel like alpacas are probably the most pleasant livestock to work with. They're clean, they're friendly, they are easy to handle, they're not going to hurt you like some of the larger livestock will, and they give you a wonderful product," said Riley.

There are a few objections, but in six minutes, it's all over and the alpacas return to grazing; perhaps a little self conscious about their new look, but definitely feeling much cooler.

The climate in south Louisiana is much hotter and more humid that the mountains of South America. That's why a Spring shearing for the alpaca is not an option.

"They're high altitude animals. They come from Peru, Bolivia, the Patagonia Mountains, so they overheat if you don't take care of them," said Sandy Steffy with Whisper Soft Alpacas.

Sandy Steffy has 25 of the animals on her "Whisper Soft Alpaca" farm near the town of Bush. The best wool is sheared off in a thick blanket from the alpaca's mid section. It has the softness of cashmere.

"It's soft, it's gentle, it's everything anybody ever dreamed about," she says.

The wool sells for up to $3 an ounce. Steffy collects and bags it and sends it off to be turned into yarn. It's a relatively new industry. The alpacas were first introduced in the U.S only 25 years ago, but the animal is growing in popularity.

"When my family first started saying, hey we're going to raise alpacas, I thought they were crazy. But after seeing the animals and working with them I really fell in love with them and I wouldn't do anything else," Riley said.

Most of the time the alpacas have a gentle demeanor. It's hard not to like these cute, big eyed animals.

"Oh I love coming home. It's the best part of my day to come home and deal with the animals," says Steffy.

Animals that are gradually becoming a part of the landscape.

If you want to knit an alpaca sweater, one roll of the yard costs about $18. Sandy Steffy does welcome visitors to her alpaca farm near Bush, but you need to call ahead for an appointment.