Take a tour and learn all about these gentle and oh-so-cute animals
By Sue Baldani
Located on 15 acres in Franklin, Mistletoe Farm is home to a herd of alpacas, many of whom love visitors. Started by Leanne and Tom Butchko, the farm was named for the abundance of mistletoe on the property. Plus, while looking at all those cute faces, you might just want to kiss one.
“People are surprised how friendly, curious, quiet and docile the alpacas are and that they all have unique personalities just like humans,” said Leanne. “Some are loving and enjoy chin rubs and others are aloof and prefer watching life from the sidelines. They are also amazed that an adult alpaca weighs only about 150 pounds.”
When Leanne and Tom, who are both certified public accountants, first heard about alpacas from friends, they did some research to find out more about them. What they learned made them want some of their own, and inspired them to buy their farm.
“We began our alpaca adventures about fifteen years ago by winning one alpaca,” said Leanne. “Trick is you can’t have just one! They would die of loneliness. So we purchased a mom and cria (baby) and started our herd with three.”
Today, they keep between 20 – 25 alpacas, and breed and sell about five to 10 a year. Because of the amount of fiber alpacas produce, Leanne mastered the art of weaving, felting and spinning; she now makes products to sell in their farm store. Of course, with so much fiber, she has to have help.
“We are blessed to have several Tennessee knitters that help us make our hats, ear warmers, scarves and other natural goods using our farm yarn,” said Leanne. “Our family helps with various farm events and the designing of our non-seasonal goods such as t-shirts, mugs and printed products. We also have six grandkids who enjoy jumping in and helping out!”
Their goal each year is to make use of all the fleece by making yarn with the prime grade fiber. The seconds are used to make dryer balls and felted sheets so nothing goes to waste.
For visitors who would like to learn weaving, felting and spinning, they also offer classes on the farm. All age groups and levels of experience are welcome. There are also classes to learn the art of natural dyeing.
“Our natural dye classes consist of foraging for natural dye materials found in our surroundings such as walnuts, leaves, berries and flowers,” said Leanne. “We then teach dye methods including extraction and ‘setting’ on various types of fabric, yarn, silk or paper.”
Leanne said that alpaca fiber is hypoallergenic, water repellent, flame resistant, light weight, and breathable, and it wicks away moisture while being several times warmer than wool. It also comes in 16 natural colors and dyes easily.
Mistletoe Farm Alpacas is very focused on sustainable practices. Leanne explained that alpacas are easy on the land. Since they have padded feet that do not pull grass up by the roots, they are low impact on pastures and soil. They also eat very little per body weigh; a herd of 10 – 15 alpacas eat about one 50 pound bale of hay a day in winter. The farm also composts their manure directly on pastures and in their dye garden. Alpaca fertilizer is considered a rich soil conditioner and improves soil quality and the ability to retain water. It’s high in nitrogen and potassium, and doesn’t need to be aged like most livestock manure. It also breaks down quickly into the soil.
To see these adorable animals, book your visit through their website at www.mistletoefarmalpacas.com . A typical farm tour lasts 1 ½ hours, and half of that includes interacting and taking pictures with the alpacas. The other half is spent in their studio seeing what they make with all that fluffiness.
“We continue to be blessed each year with more and more visitors. Best guesstimate is between 5,000-10,000 last year,” said Leanne. “We do close during July and August due to the summer heat, and the alpacas tend to spend their days in front of the fans and in kiddie pools!”
Pull quote: “We began our alpaca adventures about fifteen years ago by winning one alpaca,” said Leanne. “Trick is you can’t have just one! They would die of loneliness. So we purchased a mom and cria (baby) and started our herd with three.”