There are a lot of things Sally Schmidt wants the world to know about alpaca, and more specifically their fleece that is becoming more and more celebrated for both fashion and function. But what does she think the most pertinent fact is for us to know while we battle winter in Wisconsin?
“It’s SO warm!” she laughs. “Alpaca fiber feels luxurious, like a cross between cashmere and silk. It also possesses superior wicking action compared to natural fibers to keep you dry and cozy.”
Sally and her husband Tom opened Sabamba Alpaca Ranch and Bed & Breakfast in De Pere for that reason: to give people of all ages an experience that made them feel warm and comfortable. And at first, that didn’t involve the endearing and lovable four-legged creatures at all.
“I knew I wanted to start a bed and breakfast,” Sally remembers. “I had studied them and how to start that kind of a business, so I picked out a Victorian home on the river when my husband who grew up on a dairy farm said, ‘I want to go back to the country.’”
Her next question was a logical one: What do we do? It was a television advertisement that caught her eye while living in California called “I Love Alpacas” that eventually ignited the idea of creating a ranch in Northeast Wisconsin.
“We visited farms and went to open houses to meet alpacas and I got bit by the bug,” she says fondly. “I just looked at their cute faces and knew it was for me.”
An animal sanctuary: From farm to finery
It’s easy to see just how delightful and charming alpacas are in appearance, but it’s their personalities and humanlike behavior — there are troublemakers! — that make them so likeable. Sabamba Alpaca Ranch and Bed & Breakfast runs and resembles a happy family, in both the human and animal sense. In fact, it is within that theme that the farm got its unique name.
“We took the first letter of our 7 children’s names to create it,” Sally explains. “We wanted them all to be a part of the ranch.”
The “full service alpaca ranch for breeders, enthusiasts and anyone interested in alpacas” focuses on breeding for fleece production, which begins with sheering the animals in May.
Each alpaca produces 5-10 pounds of fleece each spring (500 pounds of fiber = 1700 pairs of socks!), and varies in length and grade. The fleece, or fiber, is softest when the alpacas are at their youngest and similar to human hair with age becomes shorter and coarser. Alpacas come in 22 natural colors, but Sally often finds an unexpected variation while sheering the active and playful babies of the family.
“We’ll go through the process and think, ‘OK, there’s a white colored one, a grey colored one’ but if it’s a cria (baby alpaca) it’s usually hay colored because when they roll on the ground, the hay gets stuck in their baby fleece,” she laughs.
Most of the processes are the same as in the production of sheep’s wool, but the outcome in the finished product is much different. Alpaca fiber is finer than sheep’s wool and the scales are different, which is the reason it has a different “hand” or feel.
“You don’t get the prickle from alpaca that you do with sheep’s wool,” Sally explains. “It also has a much stronger ability to insulate. It keeps you warmer. People say they just feel cozy wearing alpaca clothing.”
Unlike its wool and synthetic rivals, alpaca fleece also has the capacity to regulate body temperature, an added bonus in cold climates like Wisconsin.
“I can go from the barn to the house and be comfortable throughout,” Sally says. “Manmade fibers that are poly based don’t breathe. Natural fibers like alpaca are great because they have that breathability.”
It’s these components that make alpaca fiber the perfect choice for a variety of items like scarves, hats, mittens, gloves, blankets, sweaters, capes and more, all of which Sabamba Alpaca Ranch offers. In addition, they carry alpaca yarn and rovings, handmade gifts like stuffed animals and ornaments, and household products such as dryer balls and nesting birdfeeders.
“Our general tip for taking care of alpaca fiber is ‘less is more,’” Sally explains. “When you have ‘plastic’ clothes, you wash and dry them every day. We teach people to wash their goods only when they need it — you’ll do more damage to a natural fiber by washing it than you will wearing it. Animals weren’t designed to go in the washing machine!”
A warm and welcoming space for all
Located on a quaint rural road in De Pere, Sabamba Alpaca Ranch and Bed & Breakfast is all you want a country getaway to be and more. The sense of warmth and family is undeniably present within the remodeled 1890 farmhouse.
“We want everyone to feel at home,” Sally says. “By the time you leave — even if you’re only with us for one night — we want you to feel like you are a part of the family and know that you’re always welcome.”
While the bed and breakfast offers cozy quarters, hearty breakfasts and the opportunity to relax and rejuvenate, it also provides a one-of-a-kind experience not found anywhere else.
“If you want to be interactive in the barn, you are welcome. It’s entirely up to guests how they spend their vacation with us. We’re a year-round full time farm so you can help with chores like feeding the animals. Or you can just watch the alpacas while on the porch,” Sally explains.
“We also offer what we call the “Alpaca Experience.’ I dedicate one-on-one time to teach you about anything you might want to know. Do you want to learn about how to raise alpacas? The history of alpacas? Alpaca fiber? We have a lot of fun and people learn a lot.”
Some guests have even had the chance to leave a legacy of their own. Alpacas Layla, Georgette and William are all namesakes of past guests of the bed and breakfast who were lucky to witness their births on the ranch.
“It’s definitely a unique experience and people come because they want something different, to learn something new,” Sally says.
The bottom line for Sabamba Alpaca Ranch and Bed & Breakfast?
“It’s fun! We have a really good time.”
Did you know? Alpaca fiber is:
- Naturally hypoallergenic
- Not itchy like sheep’s wool
- Warmer than wool
- More durable than wool
- Wrinkle resistant for travel
- Not a cling-to-body fabric
- Lightweight but warm
Special locations for the holiday season!
There are a multitude of ways to peruse all Sabamba Alpaca Ranch has to offer in the form of fashion and function — not to mention gifts (and gift certificates) for all ages — and it’s never been easier:
November and December at Bay Park Square mall: Sabamba Alpaca Ranch is conveniently located within the Door County Christmas store at Bay Park Square in Green Bay. The space near Younkers and Santa’s winter wonderland holds Sabamba’s signature line of alpaca clothing, household and outdoor accessories, and specialty items amongst a variety of local vendors’ goods, including Door County Christmas items.
December 2-11 at Old World Christmas Market at Osthoff Resort: Sabamba Alpaca Ranch will be featured at the annual market at Osthoff Resort. Located at 101 Osthoff Avenue in Elkhart Lake, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily “experience the holiday ‘gemütlichkeit’ of a traditional European Christmas Market, reminiscent of the centuries-old German Christkindlesmarkt. International and regional artisans displaying their specialty wares, European delicacies, German Christmas music and Father Christmas are all a part of the 18th annual Old World Christmas Market.” Source: www.christmasmarketatosthoff.com.
The farm store located at Sabamba Alpaca Ranch is open various hours and days all year — visit www.sabambaalpaca.com for details!
Curious about how it all works?
Sally and Tom were “bit by the bug” when it comes to alpacas, and you could be too. If you’re interested in learning more about the business, Sabamba Alpaca Ranch offers events each year to help the public explore all avenues of alpaca breeding.
“The goals for our breeding program include superior fiber qualities, healthy livestock — caring for them in a superior manner — and positive animal behaviors, which is very important to us,” Sally says. “We want the alpaca to be calm and well-rounded.”
Other events on the farm include a Beginner’s Seminar each spring, creating the perfect hands-on opportunity for potential future alpaca breeders and owners to learn more. Ideal advice on handling and training, breeding, fiber and much more are all presented. Their Annual Fall Open House offers the chance to meet and walk an alpaca, take photos and eat delicious snacks.
Sabamba Alpaca Ranch is open year round, and is available for small group tours. For more information, simply call 920-371-0003 for details!
Sabamba Alpaca Ranch and Bed & Breakfast
2838 Hickory Road, De Pere