Saturday, March 30, 2013

How to Have An Effective Farm Visit

One of the best ways to have people truly learn about you and your alpacas is through a farm visit. But, what is the most effective way to get the most out of your and their time?  You pick up the phone and you have someone on the other end asking for a farm visit.  Or, you get an email asking if they can come by and see the alpacas.   

Here are a few tips to go through to help the visit be smooth and effective.

What kind of visit do they want? Is it a grandparent with little children wanting to pet alpacas, or are they interested in raising a herd of their own?   These are two very different meetings.

The casual afternoon visit.   

For the casual afternoon viewing, I schedule about an hour and greet them on the porch so they do not need to come inside. We start off with the Anatolian Guard Dogs greeting us at the gate.  This is great segway for predator control and alpaca safety.  Next, we walk in the female pasture towards the barn.  We stop as the ladies approach us and, if I am prepared, hand visitors grain in my hand for them to feed.  The ladies can get a bit “enthusiastic” about the pellets, so I limit the amount offered.   If there are any babies, I do my best to catch one or two, scratching up the backs and necks of the more friendly adults. We head to the barn and I explain our housing system for weaning, training, shearing and such.   The boys are always fun, as they are more rambunctious and confident than the girls.  One of our older males LOVES the pellets and will do tight circles around anyone with feed in tow.

This round leads us back to the house where I offer to show them our alpaca products.  Many are interested in the creation of these products from animals right outside the doorway.  The visitors are usually on their way after this.

The raising alpacas visit

There are three types of alpaca buyers 
1)  Family project – 4H, pets, love of animals.
 2) Fiber processors – creating their own hats, sweaters, socks. 
3) Wanting alpacas as a business/ income. 

The three are not mutually exclusive to each other, and all involve learning how to keep an alpaca alive and well.  I set out significantly more time for this meeting – usually 3 to 4 hours. Both types of meetings are just as important, but we begin our visit in the house, sitting down and talking about what they are looking for, their ideas and how we can help them.  This group receives an alpaca farm packet, overviewing the market, husbandry and the care needed for raising alpacas.   When the initial set of questions have been answered, we head outside in the same route, visiting the guard dogs, females, barn and the males.   However, it takes several hours to go through, explaining the hay and watering systems, pasture layout and general upkeep of a farm. 

I found that about 3 hours and 10 alpaca fleeces is about the maximum before the brain starts to melt.  Visitors tend to get the glazed-eyes syndrome and are done.  At this point, ask if there are any other major questions, and wrap-up your visit for the day.

Preparation Tips for the Visit:

  • Ensure they have good directions.
  • Look at the weather ahead of time and have the visitors dress appropriately.  We have several sets of muck boots that we offer so they do not have to drive home with alpaca manure on their shoes.
  • Greet them at the front door. Do not have your visitors come and find you somewhere on your property. 
  • Offer information and really listen to the types of questions they are asking and what they want alpacas for – money, fun, clothing?
  • Ask about their farm layout, timeframe, future growth plans.
  • Help them understand why the alpaca industry is strong and how it can work for them.  If you do not understand it, why are they interested in you?
  • Convey that they will not be alone when buying these animals.  Reaffirm that you will be there to help out with any and all questions they have about alpacas.
  • Be able to catch and feel the alpacas.  If your alpacas are shy or skittish, have a few already caught so visitors can feel the fiber.  Or, have bags of fleece on hand.  An alpaca visit is a very tactile experience. 
  • If you do not know an answer to a question, say so and then go find it for them.

Farm visits are fun.  Everyone is enthusiastic and takes away something they didn’t know – even the kids.  Appreciate the variety of people and the many ways alpacas can be enjoyed.  Just because you are utilizing them one way, expand other’s opportunities on how they want to enjoy this unique lifestyle.