Fiber Fields Alpaca Farm
Dawn and John Brooker
885 Turner Ridge
Palermo, Maine 04354
Alpaca Farms Maine
Owning and caring for alpacas is relatively easy, however, preparing for them to arrive at your farm can sometimes be a little involved.
My husband, John, and I had been keeping our eyes open for some kind of a business to operate ourselves, but nothing seemed to be quite right. Then one day I saw a short segment about raising alpacas on the public broadcasting channel. I immediately thought, "this could be it"! After finding a farm and scheduling an appointment to visit, I started bracing myself NOT to go crazy over these animals when I first saw them. After all, John had to feel inspired to enter this venture too. We asked many questions and the farm owner was exceptionally free with information. I must admit, when I asked how much alpaca breeding stock cost I was a little startled, but I quickly realized how our initial investment would be recouped, and promptly put the "starting-up" fees in perspective. After returning to the car, I made a conscious effort NOT to ramble on about what a wonderful opportunity this could be. Instead, I glanced at John and all he said was, "They're awfully cute!" I was shocked.
Within two weeks of our visit we decided to start an alpaca farm. Unfortunately, this did not mean going down the road and purchasing some animals. This meant preparing our property for alpacas while we were each maintaining 45-50hr/wk careers-a task easier said than done.
We love where we live in Union, Maine; it's quiet, slightly secluded, and wooded! Needless to say, our first purchase was a new chainsaw! We spent hours cutting trees. Some of them were cut for firewood while others were hauled to the chipper, that was hitched to our tractor (purchases number two and three). After several weeks of clearing, John contacted an excavator operator to remove the stumps. Then John purchased a rake and mower attachment for the tractor to tend the newly cleared area. Once the ground was leveled, it was easy to see we increased our field size by 100-150%.
Well, so far we've made five large purchases, and not one of them had a heartbeat! My day had finally come in February 1997-a little earlier than we planned. A few females were offered for sale that I was particularly interested in. We proceeded to purchase them even though we were unable to take them home. The breeder generously offered to board them free of charge until our farm was ready.
With the purchase of our first alpacas under our belt, we continued on with our list of projects to be completed before they moved in. The two biggest jobs remaining were the fencing and the shelter.
After speaking to several alpaca owners, John decided to have five foot, six strand, high tensile electric fencing installed by a professional company. We agreed to divide the area into three pastures to enable proper pasture rotation and for future herd growth. Of course we'll continue to clear more land to increase our pasture space in the summers to come, but at least we had a solid start.
At last we moved on to the final large project; a shelter. Since alpacas do not require a fancy barn, we opted to build a conservative shelter. A lot of time is spent walking to and from the barn so it needs to be in a convenient location. It also should have good southern exposure and shade if possible. We agreed on a spot quite close to the house that fulfilled all of our prerequisites.
Life was merry in Union on our little farm for quite some time. That is until it became apparent the newly seeded grass was not growing fast enough! We were outgrowing our pasture space.
John and I had frequently entertained the idea of relocating but did not get really motivated until friends of ours demonstrated an interest in buying our house. At that point we looked at every piece of property that had any possibility of fulfilling our needs. We had 4 major prerequisites: 20 acres of established fields with no power lines or roads running through them, a livable house appropriately situated on the property, a barn, and a location within 60 minutes of our vet.
As time went by it became obvious we were going to have to choose between land and structure because the ideal property with both simply did not exist! The decision was made to search for land and fields over house. So, this is what we saw on Thanksgiving Day 2000….brace yourself it is a shocker.
Click on image for larger view
A 96+ acre antique farm in Palermo Maine with 15+ acres of fields that have been hayed regularly--no livestock on them for the past 10 years! Perfect. The house had been abandon for 3-5 years and was in need of some serious attention. To our surprise, all angles in the house were straight (roofs, floors etc) even though the foundation/sills were in need of repair. Several experts indicated we had purchased this "unspoiled" Victorian farmhouse just in time. I use the term "unspoiled" because it has original woodwork, wainscoting, and cabinetry dating back to the early 1900's. It is truly charming, but I will admit we had to have vision to realize this property's potential. (Our parents thought we were crazy.)
The papers were signed in May 2001 and the task of preparing the Palermo farm for alpacas began. John gave his notice at work to enable him to focus on the farm project. He built two shelters for the alpacas and erected temporary fencing in an area away from the house. I continued working my day job and started packing. I packed almost everything we owned--literally because we decided to live in a 24' 5th wheel camper while the house was undergoing major structural repairs. (Yes, all of us were going to live in the camper: 2 humans, 2 Rotties, &2 cats.) What an adventure!
Moving day lasted an eternity--26 hours to be exact. Obviously, we did not accurately estimate how much time this task would require or how much stuff we had accumulated! The animals were the last to go. We borrowed a livestock trailer and truck from our friends Al Maloney and Nancy Williams to enable us to move as many animals at once as possible.
The final trip was a site to behold…..John and I sandwiched in the front seat with two cats each in their own crate, two Rotties sandwiched in the back seat, two chickens in a large dog crate along with various boxes and hay feeders in the bed of the truck, a trailer loaded with camelids and the sun rising in the rear view mirror at 5:30am!
We were exhausted and the fun was just beginning!
Here is a more recent picture of our house.
We have since demolished the ell and the barn after it was clear they were not salvageable. A new 40x60’ steel barn has been erected behind the house—an article solely devoted to that project will appear in the “Building a Farm” section of our site. Please check back for a more detailed description of our farm project.