Acappella Alpaca Farm in Hollis has newborns, open house planned for July 26

HOLLIS – Kathy Reczko commutes to Boston for her job as a software development manager, but when she returns home at the end of a long day, she unwinds by taking care of a herd of alpacas. She is the owner of Acappella Alpaca Farm at 183 Silver Lake Road, where she tends to 35 adult alpacas and three newborn crias.

“The thing I love most about them is right now,” she said during a visit at dusk. “I can come out in the evening and relax and just watch them. They are incredibly gentle and calming. It’s a perfect life.”

When Reczko first bought the property, it was a horse farm, and she rented stalls and boarded horses for other people. After the horse owners got their own place and left her, she had to figure out what to do next.

“I hoped to get animals back here because it seemed like the right thing to do,” she explained, “but I was tired of horses. I did some research and found that alpacas are perfect for New England winters. They are easy to maintain and they are cheaper than a dog, and they have nice fleece.”

Her decision made, Reczko has been raising alpacas for almost four years now. She relies on two barn managers who cover while she’s at work during the week, as well as young volunteers from 4H. Her animals eat a cup of grain in the morning and again in the evening, with supplemental hay. She is able to do most of the care herself, but does have a veterinarian who makes house calls when professional help is needed.

There are two varieties of alpacas: the suri, which has a shiny, denser coat that resembles slightly curly hair, and the huacaya, which is fluffier, more like a teddy bear. Because the suri is much rarer than the huacaya, the animal, and its fleece, are more expensive. Because alpaca wool doesn’t contain lanolin, people with lambswool allergies can often wear alpaca wool. Alpacas come in 23 natural colors, including black, white, beige, brown and grey, and can be solid or multi-colored. Their average lifespan is 15 years.

People often confuse alpacas and llamas. At 200 to 350 pounds, llamas are about double the size of alpacas. They have long banana-shaped ears and have a double coat with coarse hair over a soft inner coat. Llamas are independent, prefer solitude, and tend to be aggressive. Alpacas grow to be 100 to 175 pounds, have a single fine coat, and are social animals who crave the company of others. A female alpaca who is pregnant and uninterested in advances from a male will spit, but otherwise alpacas have a “zen personality.”

Reczko shears her animals once a year and uses the fleece for spinning or felting. She sells some of the fiber to supplement the cost of keeping the animals, and also makes items herself. She said her grandmother taught her to crochet when she was seven, and she loves using her own fiber.

“Handling the fiber of an animal you know and love is just wonderful,” she said.

In addition to the fleece, Reczko breeds her alpacas, carefully planning matches. The gestation period is about 11.5 months, so she breeds in the late spring or early fall to have summer babies rather than winter.

“I can trace the lineage back to the original herd that came into the U.S., primarily from Peru but also from Bolivia and Chile,” she said. All her animals are registered with the official alpaca database (ARI), which conducts DNA testing to verify the offspring matches who she says the parents are.

“Tracing the lineage is important from the breeding perspective,” she continued. “Gray is a unique color, and the mom had a black cria. I keep trying to figure out what color I will get. I breed for conformity and better qualities. Many of the fathers aren’t on my farm; I’ll find others for desirable qualities and breed to them for coat quality and show quality.”

On the day the Journal visited, Sami Larouche from the Milford 4H program was helping out. She owns a male alpaca named Alder, who she boards at Acappella, and earlier in the day he was bred with Irene, one of Reczko’s 3-year-olds. Most of the 4H group was there for the breeding.

“I’m very excited because we’re having a little baby,” said Sami. She and big sister Megan are two of the regulars who help teach the alpacas how to walk on a leash, keep them fed and watered, clean up poop, and help out at shows.

Irene is one of a dozen alpacas who were born on the farm, and the only native whose name isn’t related to music. Irene’s arrival was a few weeks overdue; her mother carried her for over a year, waiting until the middle of Hurricane Irene in 2011 to give birth.

The word Acappella means music without instrumental accompaniment, or sung in the manner of a chapel choir. Reczko plays classical clarinet and sings, and started out as a music education major in college before switching to computer science and mathematics, but chose the name for her farm because of the way alpacas hum, and because she likes the way the words Acappella and alpaca flow together. Her original alpacas came already named, but all the animals born on her farm since she started have musical names, including Symphony, Maestro, Elvis, Jazz, Amadeus, Melody, Whitney, Minuet, JT (James Taylor), Rocky (after composer Sergei Rachmaninoff), and BoRap (Bohemian Rhapsody). The two female crias born on June 25 were named after jazz singers: Anita (Baker) an uncommon rose gray, and Etta (James), with a lustrous black coat. The third cria, a male, was born on July 11 and will be called Victory, since his sire’s name is General Grant.

“He is beautiful, with a grayish brown head and perfectly straight legs,” she said. “I got just what I was hoping for: two beautiful girls and a future herd sire.”

Reczko is hosting an open house from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on July 26, where visitors can meet the newborns and mingle with the herd. She will have assorted hats, gloves, mittens and fiber products for sale. She is also hosting a weaving class from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on July 27, where instructors will demonstrate how to work with alpaca fiber. Looms will be available for use on site and for purchase along with yarn for sale.

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