El Cajon’s alpaca farm educates community in rain or shine

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Of all the stories on our otherworldly heat wave this summer, maybe none is more dramatic than the July 6 entry about Ramona’s 112 degrees — the catch is that the reading was reached before 11 a.m. Local and area temps would soar the rest of the day, with air cranes deployed against fire threats and with the authorities’ usual warnings on beating the discomfort.

Suddenly, “cool zone” was more than a catchphrase at the county’s 100 or so centers designed to provide relief from the prospect of danger.

Of all the stories on our otherworldly heat wave this summer, maybe none is more dramatic than the July 6 entry about Ramona’s 112 degrees — the catch is that the reading was reached before 11 a.m. Local and area temps would soar the rest of the day, with air cranes deployed against fire threats and with the authorities’ usual warnings on beating the discomfort.

Suddenly, “cool zone” was more than a catchphrase at the county’s 100 or so centers designed to provide relief from the prospect of danger.

But for Anna Grace, July 6 would have been just another day on the farm. She would strut her stuff like any self-respecting alpaca, more interested in the bipeds and their funny clothes than the nearby shade. She, arguably, made more friends than she realized, especially among the kids, with a temperament so genial that it is the envy of mankind and with a face so lanky that it is adorable.

Give it up for A Simpler Time—Alpacas & Mill, El Cajon’s center for all things alpaca and all that that implies. The great outdoors is at play over these rustic and sprawling four acres at 1802 Alta Place amid yarn-dyeing and bread-making classes, fiber mill tours, a products boutique and, of course, the animals, whose easy hums and clucks of approval reassure visitors that the quality here equals the quantity.

Proprietors Dave and Barbara Davies have raised alpacas for 18 of their 26 years on the land, with Barbara speaking to the couple’s unlikely path (Dave was working as a distribution manager at Qualcomm then, and Barbara was a homeschooling housewife to the couple’s nine children).

“We did not know when we came across them that we would be farming them,” she said. “Through the years, I’ve sold a lot of alpacas, sharing my joy at these gorgeous animals with others.”

The couple held two open houses in July by public demand and spend a couple weeks at the San Diego County Fair each year, educating the community on the finer points of these “calming, adaptable animals.”

“They are by nature very timid, but they’re also very curious and friendly,” said Barbara Davies. “They’re quiet and clean, and they make wonderful pets. You can gain their trust with a treat, and a bale of hay will feed an alpaca for a month.”

And given their intense herd instincts, researchers say, they can actually die of loneliness.

As if in sanction, Anna Grace would amble up for a closer look. The touch at her extended neck is soft and smooth, pointing to the wool factor that sets alpacas apart the world over.

Once prized by Peru’s Inca Indians for its all-weather fleece, the alpaca can fetch a whopping $4 an ounce of fiber at the much lower end (the average animal weighs 150 pounds).

And given the material’s breathable quality, you will not hear a peep out of the buyer.

Yarn, scarves, sweaters, gloves, hats, slacks, even teddy bears: You name it, the alpaca can grow it, in more than 22 natural colors.

Anna Grace’s modern relatives are members of the camel family, numbering about 4 million worldwide and making their homes mostly in the mountains of Southern Peru at 3,500 to 5,000 feet above sea level. They are considerably shorter than their look-alike llama cousins, standing about three feet high at the shoulder. Some mummified alpaca remains in the native area are 1,000 years old, with the average modern lifespan pushing 20 years. The gestation period is about 11.5 months (the offspring are called cria), and multiple births are exceedingly rare.

Dave and Barbara Davies farm 36 of these fascinating creatures, which thrive in all 50 states and seem to have taken to man pretty easily. The reverse is true amid the feedback from a recent private tour at A Simpler Time. Barbara Davies said she thinks the interest may have developed from the couple’s appearance at this year’s county fair — the crowds there were so dense, she said, that accommodating them quickly morphed into a duty.

The alpaca may maintain a lesser place in animal awareness, but Davies’ praises fall on interested ears. Think about it: When’s the last time anybody held a private tour for a pack of dogs or a pondful of fish?

Especially in 112-degree heat.

More information is available at asimplertimestore.com or at 619-579-9114.

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