Former summer residence turned year-round home to alpacas
Camden — Abby Fitzgerald, co-owner of Blueberry Farm Alpacas, first saw the furry cousins to the camel — alpacas — at Common Ground Fair about 10 years ago.
She had grown up around horses and enjoyed being outdoors. In addition, Fitzgerald wanted to put to use the property she had inherited in Melvin Heights. Looking at the animals, she thought they looked “doable,” she said.
As a child, Fitzgerald spent summers at her grandparents' house in Camden. When it became hers in the 1990s, she and her husband John winterized the house and made it their permanent home. Fitzgerald was quick to give John credit for his part in the farm's success. He built the two barns that house the animals – one for the females and, later, another for the males – made a road through the property, and continues to help her run the operation.
“I really couldn't have done this without my husband,” she said.
She started her herd with four pregnant females, one of which already had a baby, called a cria, with it. She then began breeding the females, which added some males to the herd. She since has bought one male for breeding and a pair of geldings. The animals she bought came from a farm in Kittery and one in New Hampshire. Now the herd has grown to 26 — 12 females and 14 males. And one of the females, Isadora, is pregnant, and due to deliver in September. Fitzgerald hopes the cria will be a female.
Fitzgerald said Aldermere Farm in Rockport mows her fields and delivers her hay, the alpacas' main food. She also feeds grain to animals that need to gain weight, or to help them maintain their weight through the winter. Isadora will soon have grain added to her diet.
Alpacas, which are native to the Andes Mountains of South America, are well adapted to Maine's climate, she said. Their thick fleece keeps them warm in the winter and the farm's location near Penobscot Bay makes for cool breezes in the summer.
Twice a day, the alpacas are fed and their barns mucked out. Fitzgerald does the chores in the morning, and Matt Young, a sophomore at Camden Hills Regional High School, takes care of them three afternoons a week.
In May, the herd is sheared; Fitzgerald hires a man from new Hampshire to do this task. The fleece is processed in two places: some at Newaim Farm in Waldoboro, and some in New Hampshire.
Nancy Williams of Newaim Farm also knits items from Blueberry Farm wool. Fitzgerald sells these goods, along with yarn made from the fleece, out of her home, and also at The Cashmere Goat in Camden and Over the Rainbow in Rockland. She appreciates Williams' knowledge.
“Nancy Williams … is very familiar with alpacas, and with fiber.”
Fitzgerald said she would be happy to sell fleece to spinners in the area, as well. And she has lately come upon a new use for the fleece: when she insulated an apartment over one of her barns (not used to house animals), she asked the contractor, Evergreen Home Performance of Rockland, to use alpaca wool.
Besides selling alpaca products, Fitzgerald gives tours of the farm to school groups. And she showed her animals for several years.
“We were very successful on the show route,” she said.
These days, she prefers to stay home; she has not participated in any shows for about four years.
Now 70, she is thinking about cutting back on the number of animals she keeps. But she is reluctant to let them go.
“Being with the animals is so therapeutic.”
Sarah E. Reynolds is a reporter for the Camden Herald.
Sarah E. Reynolds has been a reporter and writer for more than 20 years, winning awards from the Maine Press Association and other professional organizations. She loves to read, hike and play word games.
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