Tuesday, October 27, 2015

How to have an Alpaca Farm Visit that everyone - including you - enjoys

One of the most interesting parts of my job is to host farm visits for those wanting a one-on-one experience with alpacas.  After 11 years of having a little bit of everyone – from potential alpaca buyers and classrooms to nursing homes and pre-vet students – I have a general checklist I find helpful when getting ready for a day of newcomers on the farm.

  1. Trust your surroundings.  Is your farm moderately picked up so that you won’t be embarrassed that general equipment is lying around your farm? Let alone anyone getting hurt.  Our dogs LOVE to be creative on what they can chew on – and seem to race how quickly each other can destroy boxes…halters…rake handles…  I suggest a quick pick up around the area to have a clean, safe environment to enter with your sometimes not-so-farm-savvy city-folk guests.
  2. What is the purpose the visit – for you and for them?  Don’t bother giving them the pitch of how wonderful alpacas are to raise if it’s a grandmother with grandchildren just looking for an outdoor afternoon together.   If it’s a school visit, we usually send an information sheet ahead of time for the teacher to briefly go over alpacas, where they came from and how their fleece is utilized.  In a school setting, kids are relatively focused on the abstract idea of an alpaca.  Once they are on the farm, comprehension of all useful facts seems to plummet.  We have tractors to climb on, dogs to pet and alpacas to feed.  An alpaca’s South American origins are of little value to a third grader at this point.   What we usually do is bring either the buyer inside our house or the kids / business group in our front lawn and give about 10-15 minutes of information about the alpacas before they see any of the animals.  We talk about when they have babies, shearing, the greatness of alpaca fiber.  This way, many questions will be asked and answered ONCE instead of multiple times by many people.

  3. Which brings me to my next topic – information.  If you ask 10 alpaca farmers the same question, you will get 20 different answers.  If you are new to the business, research the best you can the most Frequently Asked Questions.  Tell them about your experiences. Let people know if you do not have the answer, but you will follow up.  This is a great excuse to re-contact the visitors in a couple of days and follow up as potential customers in the future.
  4. What is your timeframe?  Our farm visits usually wrap up in 45-50 minutes.  What do you want to do with your guests?  Feed the alpacas?  Catch them and be hands on?  Look at fleece? See products?  Have an idea of what you would like to go over before they get to your door.
  5. Kid appropriate – what is the age range of the kids that will be attending?   What is their background?  Some schools are all about the birds and the bees and others do not want to cover that topic at all.  On occasion, some our ladies and gents get a little frisky on each side of the fence.  Separate them before hand if you do not want to talk about breeding.
  6. Is your bathroom ready for mass usage?  Over the 11 years, probably a thousand different people have been in my downstairs bathroom.  Clean it before and after.  Just saying…
  7. Remind guests to dress appropriately for the weather and the farm.  In Montana, muck boots can be a fashion statement.  Those from a big city may think otherwise.  I have offered boots to many visitors that were wearing patent leather shoes, as they readily absorb odor.  This is a nice courtesy to this person as well as everyone they are driving / flying with that is not that impressed with a continued alpaca smell.
  8. Spitting – our alpacas are well adapted to people.  But if we have 80 alpacas vying for little hands with feed in them, there could be some crossfire.  You may want to warn your visitors as you deem appropriate the likelihood of this green phenomenon. 
  9. Are you going to be hands-on?  We usually catch an alpaca or two to touch, check out the teeth and toes and just to be close.  Do you have an alpaca ready for this?  You may want to do some intensive work in the days leading up to the farm visit if this is part of the tour.  And, have the alpaca(s) already caught instead of chasing it in the pasture.
  10. Dogs.  We have guard dogs.  They are big, loving and can be intimidating.  Our Turkish Anatolians are highly socialized with kids as well as adults.  However, some guard dogs
    may be more protective than you would like during a farm visit.  I would address this with the person setting up the appointment and if there is an issue with a dog – or a visitor is afraid of dogs, then keep the dog out of the way so it is not a distraction or a potential issue.
  11. Make sure they have contact information to know how they can get a hold of you – or your products – in the future.  We have cards we give out at the end of the tour to ensure they know our website and the stores we sell at.
  12. Insurance.  Alpacas are sweet, cute and friendly.  Who could they hurt? A strategically placed kick can really sting, as can tripping in a hole, falling down a staircase, cutting a hand on a pitchfork or toenail clippers.  Talk to your insurance agent and make sure you are covered for farm visits.

Farm visits are a great way to show people how and why you have alpacas in your life.  They are unique and most of the world will never see one, let alone feed and pet this furry beast.  Prepare for your visit and your happy guests will remind you why you love your alpacas. 

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

A Farm Open House - 2,300 people at my house in 2 days

For our eighth year in a row, we held our Open House as a community event.  This year, we needed to push back our usually Last Weekend of September date to go to my sister-in-law's wedding in San Francisco.

Naturally the usual weekend was warm and sunny, about 70F.  By the time the next weekend rolled around for our event, it was cold and drizzly, making the barn a safe haven from the teasing winter elements.

Would people still come?  Who knows.  We hoped for the best.  I'm not sure if I would have ventured out in the cold to walk in a pasture. But they did - in hoards - to a total of 2,300+ people scooping their single allotted amount of alpaca feed at the gate and coming to greet the alpacas.

881 people on Saturday, the other 1,500 visitors on Sunday.

The alpacas were fantastic.  Those who wanted the treats and attention hung around the gate, going from person to person to nibble food and then move on.  Those that were not as enthusiastic about the influx of people stayed further out.

Farm days is fun, full of questions and details and a lot of co-ordination.  We look forward to more stories on the farm and enjoy a brief hiatus from the usual Autumn days.