JAY - In a place most folks would call the middle of nowhere, rests a farm of unusual nature.
The Zena Suri Alpaca Ranch is hidden within the foothills of the Ozark Mountains, just off the shores of Grand Lake O’ the Cherokees in the community of Zena, Oklahoma.The 78 acre ranch is home to owners Tom and Kathleen Callan and 47 alpacas.
The Callan’s first contact with alpacas came when Kathleen was in second grade. She was in geography class, drawing dinosaurs and sharks on her desk, when her teacher reprimanded her and gave her an assignment. The assignment was to learn about the animals in South America.
“When I checked the old Encyclopedia Britannica, I discovered that alpacas, llamas, binacas and vicunas and camels and they’re all in the same family. I thought that was pretty cool,” said Callan.
Callan finished the assignment, but the seed was planted for her love for alpacas, although it would be many years before she would own her own.
While living in Virginia, Callan was invited to the State Fair by a friend. The two went, not to ride the rides, but to see the animals.
“We walked into the first door of the first building and there they were. [It was] the first time that I had really met an alpaca. There were a bunch of really cute ones and they make the most endearing kind of humming sound. And I thought ‘oh my goodness’,” said Callan.
Her next interaction with an alpaca would come in the state of Utah, where Callan lived with a ‘postage stamp-sized yard’. Callan saw an advertisement for an alpaca show for a town just south of where she lived. Callan admits that she ‘wheedled’ her husband into attending the show with her.
“We walked into a building with maybe a thousand alpacas,” said Callan. “Then I discovered that there are two kinds of alpacas.”
Huacaya alpacas produce a more thick and soft fiber, or hair, while Suri alpacas produce a silky and smooth fiber.
“I was smitten with Suris because they look like a hair commercial,” said Callan.
The ranch has one Huacaya alpaca and one llama for comparison.
“We raise Suris for their gorgeous natural fiber,” said Callan. “We sell it in every incarnation. Everything from straight off the animal’s back… We sell it by the pound, by the ounce, by the skein, [because] we make some of it into yarn. We’ve been dying some of it lately, but mostly we sell the natural fibers.”
In fact, Callan says that a costumer in Las Vegas, Nevada has purchased fiber.
“We always joke that one of our boys, named Stage Door Johnny, is probably dancing in Vegas,” said Callan.
The ranch offers educational tours, a shop and several different classes, including felted soap, felting on a felt loom, three-dimensional felting, felting scarves and yoga with alpacas. The classes can cost from $20-$100. One of the newer classes offered is on dying the fibers.
“It’s easy and fun and it’s very interesting,” said Callan. “Some of that gets made into hats and gloves and scarves, ear warmers, dryer balls and shoe insoles.”
Alpaca fiber is lanolin-free and anti-microbial, which means it won’t agitate the wearer’s allergies.
2020 is gearing up to be an exciting year on the ranch as Callan says they have five expectant mothers this year, Callan plans to show three of her ‘little ones’ in March and shearing is scheduled for April.
“We remove a whole year’s worth of fleece from our kiddos and get them ready for the hot summer,” said Callan. “We shear them in April so that the very pale ones don’t get sunburned. Who would have ever thought alpacas could get sunburned?”
Another new option on the ranch is called ‘lead a llama to lunch’, where visitors can lead one of the younger alpacas out to a picnic table and have a picnic lunch while the alpaca grazes nearby.
Callan says that visiting the ranch is a ‘study in peace and quiet’.
“The animals are so soft and so sweet and they’re beautiful. They love to be petted and you can walk among them. It’s an experience,” said Callan. “You can even take your favorite alpaca home with you in the form of something to wear. We’ve got a lovely shop where the items we have are totally unique in the whole world.”
For more information, visit www.zenasurialpacas.com or find Zena Suri Alpacas on Facebook.