A little brown alpaca named Benny caused quite the stir when he and owner Ann Patman took a stroll in Winnipeg’s Osborne Village earlier in April.
People waved, and cars stopped to stare.
“They couldn’t believe what they were looking at,” said Patman.
Folks kept their distance, though. A select few donned rubber gloves to give Benny some well-deserved pats.
Patman’s alpacas have been busy spreading cheer to the homebound residents of communities around their home near Anola, east of Winnipeg. Normally they’d host tours on their little farm or visit seniors’ homes and daycares, but social distancing measures brought that to a halt.
Patman thought, “Since people can’t come over here, maybe we should just… walk around with one of the boys.”
She posted to Facebook, asking people in nearby Oakbank which streets they should visit.
So many people answered, that they had to make two trips to Oakbank. They’ve since visited Dugald, Garson and Beausejour on trips dubbed “Alpacademic Tours.”
People wave from windows and driveways and take pictures from a distance. The alpacas have also peered into the windows of seniors’ homes to say hello.
“We’ve actually been kind of busy,” Patman said. “I like it, and the alpacas like it, and the people like it. So it’s a win win win.”
Patman and husband Dave weren’t born ‘dyed in the wool’ farmers. In fact, Ann grew up in urban Detroit. They named their farm 313 Farms after Detroit’s area code. Most of the alpacas are named after famous Detroit figures and landmarks.
“Beans” is after a Motown choreographer. Benny is named after a police chief — with whom Patman said he shares a similar, sweet personality. Faygo is named after a Detroit drink company. Morley is named after a candy factory.
“Dave thought he looked like chocolate, you know, with a cream in the middle,” she said.
Both grew up in urban settings and had no experience with agriculture.
The couple were first introduced to the fluffy critters during a trip to Banff. They visited a store that sold alpaca sweaters and other items, which is where they first saw a photo of an alpaca. From then on they were obsessed, reading about the animals and visiting alpaca farms.
When Dave was transferred to a job in Winnipeg, they found a piece of land east of the city to settle on. In 2012, they bought their first three alpacas. Every year or so they’ve got one or two more, and now they have 14.
The alpaca farmer who sold them the animals and mentored them retired, so this summer they bought two females which they will eventually breed to increase their herd. They have no plans to sell alpacas, though. They’re pets, not a commercial operation, and don’t charge people who come to visit and pet the animals.
They shear the alpacas, and have sold some of the wool. They also host “Dancing with Alpacas!” and “Alpaca Yoga” classes on their farm during the summer.
The friendly beasts are happy to mix and mingle, said Patman. They peer curiously at the contortions of their human counterparts.
“The people love it, and the alpacas love it too,” Patman said. “They’re super friendly and they really like the attention.”