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Copyright © Alpacas of Newfoundland 2006
My wife Cathy Whitehead and I are both members of the RCMP and in 1995 we were transferred to the Port au Port Peninsula on the west coast of Newfoundland. We purchased a house and four acres of land overlooking the ocean in the picturesque community of Felix Cove.
And that is basically how it all began. We called the 1-800 number and requested an information package, then immediately got on the internet and started doing research. Once we started, it was like an avalanche - info packages, letters and e-mails started arriving daily. My two sons,(who were teenagers at the time and had long ago been influenced by Cathy to become attached to anything furry) jumped on board.
One day, in the summer of 1997, Cathy mentioned getting a llama and after some discussion, we both agreed it was a crazy idea. Not long after that, I was home recuperating from knee surgery and was reading through a business franchise magazine when I came across a full page advertisement from the Alpaca Owners and Breeders Association. I told Cathy to have a look at it and she jokingly said " what did you find, a llama franchise? I said "no, something better"! One look at these beautiful creatures and we were hooked.
Five months later, Cathy jumped into the van and headed west to pick up her mother Liz near Fredericton New Brunswick. The two spent the next eight days touring the Northeastern United States, Ontario and PEI visiting alpaca breeders. It was a great learning experience with regard to gathering information on alpaca husbandry, barn requirements, fibre, feed etc. They couldn't get over the kindness that was extended to them throughout the trip. It was an excellent and encouraging introduction into the alpaca world.
The next couple of months were spent dealing with Government agencies and we kept hearing over and over "you want to bring WHAT into Newfoundland". We spent a considerable amount of time educating these people about alpacas and the business. The last stumbling block was the Department of Environment who requested an environmental impact statement. Their fear was the negative impact alpacas could have on the moose population if they were to get loose and disappear into the forest. The impact statement put their fears to rest and we were eventually granted an importation permit which would allow us to bring the first alpacas onto the island.
Once all the permits were in place and financing arranged, construction started on the barn. During this time we had been in contact with numerous breeders in Western Canada and in August 1998 Cathy flew to British Columbia and purchased our foundation herd of five alpacas. Cathy also got her llama, a big guy by the name of Jambalaya.
Our alpacas (and Jambi) finally arrived on September 19th 1998 after a seven day journey across Canada. They were in great shape considering the long haul. It was obvious that they had been well taken care of during their trip. It was so exciting to see it all finally coming together. The months and months of hard work finally paid off!
In the summer of 1999, after seeing how much attention the alpacas were bringing to the Port au Port Peninsula, we decided to start a small craft store and open the farm to the public. The first two summers, our craft store was in the hayloft of the barn. When the threat of hoof and mouth disease was on the go, we had to close the barn doors and move the shop into the living room of our house. As you can well imagine, it was not ideal but it served it's purpose. In the summer of 2005, we opened our new 1000 square foot craft store and interpretation centre. We have also become a primary tourist destination in the area. Barn tours are provided free of charge and we also host school tours and community groups.
Over the years, the agri-tourism aspect of the business has grown steadily but we are still primarily alpaca breeders. We started with a small select group of animals and with a careful breeding program and added genetics, we offer excellent alpacas at reasonable prices. All of our animals are double registered.
When we look back, we wonder how we ever had the nerve to do what we did. Neither of us had any farming background and we knew nothing (other than book knowledge) about raising alpacas. But here we are, several years later and we've never been happier. We are still crazy about alpacas and love the lifestyle. We've also been given the opportunity to meet a lot of wonderful people since 1998 and for that we are truly thankful.