Special to the Star and Wave Newspaper
by Rachel Shubin
The plants were moved out of the green house so the alpacas could move in at 542 New England Road. And almost 20 years later, the farm, and the alpacas have become an instution in the Cape May area.
Barbara and Warren Nuessle are the owners of Bay Springs Farm Alpacas. The couple lives on the sprawling 10-acre farm with their 31 alpacas. The Nuessles, who purchased the land in 1993, started boarding their alpacas on the land in 1999, just before they opened the farm to the public.
The farm is open to visitors on Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., year-round. Visitors to the farm enjoy taking pictures of the alpacas who have free range of their fenced in areas.
Visitors can feed the alpacas carrots, if they put a donation in a jar the Nuessles donate to Animal Outreach of Cape May County. Last year they raised $2,500 in carrot money.
Over the years, the Nuessles have bred some of the alpacas and taken them to shows. During their breeding years, the female alpacas, called hembras, produced 50 babies, called crias.
“All of our animals have all won ribbons in shows,” Barbara Nuessle said. “We aren’t currently breeding alpacas, we stopped around 2008 when the economy tanked and they stopped being easy to sell. Cash wasn’t available and people became risk-adverse and reluctant to spending money.”
Every animal on the Nuessles’ farm has a name and Barbara Nuessle can tell stories about each one.
“We started with the beginning of the Alphabet with Alejandro,” Barbara Nuessle said. “We worked down to M with Moxie, which was my last one five years ago.”
One of their first alpacas came from Chile, one of the three South American countries where alpacas originate from.
“Alpacas come from Peru, Bolivia and Chile,” Barbara Nuessle said. “I had a Chilean import initially, but it needed a four-month quarantine in Florida. After that, they all descended from imports.”
Alpacas prefer temperatures ranging from 45 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit. When Cape May summers reach the upper 80-degree to 90-degree mark, the Nuessles will hose off the alpacas to keep them cool.
“They are adaptable animals,” Barbara Nuessle said. “Down here we have hot summers, so we have fans running in the barns. It gets hot when you consider they have a fleece coat.They have trouble in the heat and they don’t like wind, rain or hurricanes.”
When Cape May faces hurricane season, the Nuessles know their animals are smart enough to go in the barn, which stays locked until after the storm passes. Barbara Nuessle said she worries more about the barn roof blowing off.
Alpacas are used to rough terrain in South America in comparison to Cape May County’s soft, sandy soil. Barbara Nuessle estimates there are 4.5 million alpacas in Peru, but they have shorter life spans due to the harsher conditions.
“Their average life span is 15 or less,” Barbara Nuessle said. “A lot of our animals are getting to be geriatric. I have a lot of 16 to 18-year-olds. They live a really long life in Cape May, which is abnormal.”
The alpacas get their fur sheared once a year. It takes 25 minutes per animal for a shearing. The pprocess begins in early May, and then the Nuessles will send the fleece to the mill during May to early August.
“When they get sheared they look like skinny deer,” Barbara Nuessle said.
It takes four months to spin the yarn, so they get it back around for the Christmas holidays.
“I have two helpers come down and divide the fleece, which we sell to spinners,” Barbara Nuessle said. “I also sell it on eBay, because you can reach a lot of people on the Internet.”
While the alpacas get sheared, they also get their toenails clipped and receive various vaccinations. The animals get yearly rabies vaccines and the Nuessles give injections every six weeks to ward off worms and parasites.
In 2001, the Nuessles opened their shop, which occupies the green house and breakfast nook of their home. The shop carries a variety of products made with alpaca fleece and most notably some of the yarn is made from the Nuessles’ alpaca herd.
“Alpaca yarn is the best because it is so soft and it’s hypoallergenic,” Barbara Nuessle said. “You can even hand-wash it in lukewarm water with a mild detergent.”
Barbara Nuessle pointed to a basket on her table, which she said was yarn entirely from her animals. It can come in 22 varieties of natural colors. Other yarn Nuessle has available comes from Peru and is hand dyed a variety of colors including purple, green and blue.
“We have had the farm store open for about 16 years,” Barbara Nuessle said. “My first sale was actually on September 11, 2001. It was a terrible day and we had been watching the news all morning. We were tired of the news so we sat on the porch watching the animals and drinking iced tea. An older fellow came by and purchased some fleece we had for sale.”
Their first sale of fleece happened on a fateful day, but a friendship with the man who purchased the fleece continued over time. He would return occasionally to purchase fleece, Barbara said.
“When we opened our store, by 2002 we had dedicated the green house to the farm business,” Barbara Nuessle said. “The yarn sprawled into the breakfast room and soon became the yarn room. The alpacas have taken over.”
One of the most popular items in the store is Barbara’s yarn dryer balls. She followed tutorials on YouTube to learn how to make them.
“I knit hats, shawls, ear warmers and dryer balls,” Barbara Nuessle said. “The dryer balls are very popular and the help dry clothes faster.”
A woman in the shop said she purchased the dryer balls last year and they still looked brand new. She brought her friends to the farm and after visiting the alpacas, they all purchased multiple bags of dryer balls.
“The dryer balls last forever,” Barbara Nuessle said. “I tell people five years because they don’t believe forever. But they do and I have twenty in my dryer right now.”
Another popular item found in the store is soap wrapped with alpaca fleece.
“The soaps are made by a friend who teaches knitting classes at Fiber Arts Yarn Shop and Cape May County Technical School,” Barbara Nuessle said. “I give her a roving, which is a long sliver of fleece that has been washed and combed. I give her yarn and she knits whatever she wants. One of her popular item is beaded mitts.”
Alpacas are often confused with llamas, but Barbara Nuessle is quick to tell visitors their vast differences.
“Llamas are pack animals and are much bigger, at 400 plus pounds,” Barbara Nuessle said. “Alpacas are half the size, around 200 pounds. Alpacas are too flighty to be pack animals.”
Peruvian alpacas are quite different than the ones in Cape May.
“Our alpacas are like pets,” Barbara Nuessle said. “We do a lot of things that they wouldn’t do in Peru.”
The Nuessles have found taking care of their alpacas easier than dogs. Barbara Nuessle said having one boxer dog was more work than 30 alpacas.
“Alpacas come and go as they please in the barn, they are simple,” Barbara Nuessle said. “Alpaca manure is wonderful for the garden. People call us in the spring for manure to put in their gardens. We put out 20-30 buckets of manure a week, which people come in droves for. It has no weed seeds in it.”
The alpaca’s diets include grass, hay and a special grain formula. In the wintertime they get alfalfa.
“They get a lot of treats from visitors,” Barbara Nuessle said.
Appointments can be made to visit the farm, 609-884-0563. Visit their website www.bayspringsalpacas.com.