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Mistletoe Alpaca Farm is the Perfect Family Fun Day

Looking for the perfect family fun day in Franklin? Mistletoe Farm is loads of fun because of one adorable animal, or should I say 21 exuberant alpacas! Owners Tom and Leanne Butchko have opened their farm to the public for private tours to enjoy these jubilant creatures. 

Located just twenty minutes southeast of downtown Franklin between Arno Road and I-840, this 15-acre farm is a dream for animal lovers. But how did a couple of accountants end up with an alpaca farm? 

Tennessee native, Leanne, and Tom, who grew up in Pennsylvania, had lived in an historic 1830’s original homestead in Franklin. Their two youngest daughters had left for college, and they discovered a way to fill their empty-nest syndrome. Leanne explains, “Clients of our accounting firm expressed an interest in becoming alpaca breeders, and we were asked to study the business model and make recommendations. The clients chose not to pursue the venture realizing the amount of work and commitment necessary to properly operate a working farm, but these city folks were hooked."

“Neither of us grew up on a farm, but I had experience working on a farm where I boarded my horse in exchange for doing farm chores. The alpacas became an interest of ours, and we bought the farm in 2004 to begin raising these amazing creatures.” 

Native to South America, alpacas began importation in the late 1980s. Most of the alpacas in the United States are from Peru, with a smaller percentage from Chile and Bolivia. The fact that they were transported by air made it an expensive process. 

Leanne shares the history. “Alpacas are part of the camelid family along with camels and llamas. However, the alpaca while resembling the llama is much smaller and more friendly. The llama will carry a pack and could be used for navigating rougher terrain and trails. Their fiber is not as desired as the alpaca which are primarily raised for their luxurious fiber. Peru is still the largest producer of alpaca fiber in the world."

Leanne is a smart financier. To launch the farm, she entered an essay contest that was judged by one of the largest alpaca breeders in the U.S. stating why she should “win” an alpaca. Her essay won and their first male was delivered on the first transport from Oregon. Their herd grew to as many as 60 alpacas, but they have found that the best balance to their lifestyle is attained by managing a herd of about 20-25.

“We came up with the name ‘Mistletoe’ because there is a significant amount of mistletoe growing in the treetops behind our “boys” barn. The boy alpacas are kept separate from the girls until it’s time to mate. Mistletoe Farm depicts a young girl, who is one of our granddaughters, kissing one of our very first alpacas. We decided to use ‘kiss my alpacas’ as our logo ever since.”

“Alpacas are incredibly smart and clean animals, but are largely defenseless. They could kick, surprisingly in most any direction, but generally will not do so. They could spit, but only on bad people, says my husband.  The llama on the other hand, doesn’t seem to be particularly against a quick and unannounced spit.”

To protect their herd, they have two beautiful Great Pyrenees guard dogs, Ivy and Delilah. They also have help, thanks to their farm manager, Julie Trcka.

The alpacas were an appealing choice for the Butchkos for many reasons. They are not an “end of life” livestock, meaning that they do not get slaughtered. They are small enough to manage, about 150 pounds, and are easy to handle. Leanne has halter-trained them to walk on a lead. They are ruminants, which means they are efficient eaters. They are also extremely healthy, which makes them more affordable to care for. 

Leanne says, “Even their ‘poop’ is sought after as one of the best garden fertilizers available. It will compost in a noticeably short period of time. Their feet are padded just like a dog, so combined with their lighter weight and reduced food consumption, they are easy on the pastureland. The alpaca is often described as eco-friendly.”

The biggest bonus in raising alpacas is that they pay their way by giving up their coat of highly desired fleece which can grow up to 4-5 inches annually around their whole body. Their annual haircut is done by a professional shearer, and will produce 5-10 pounds of the luxurious fiber. 

Their fur is four times warmer than wool and easily maintained with no harsh chemicals. Unlike sheep and other fiber-bearing animals, the alpaca fiber does not contain lanolin. It is the lanolin which requires the use of the harsh chemicals to get the fiber clean and what can cause allergic reactions in some people. Additionally, it is water resistant, flame-retardant, and hypoallergenic.

When you visit Mistletoe Farm, you will get the opportunity to visit Leanne’s store and see all the wonderful products available for sale using the fleece.  Leanne makes all types of items with the fleece including hats, scarfs, gloves, socks, head warmers, shoe inserts, and dryer balls. She says, “We process a percentage of it here on the farm, some at local co-ops and the rest at a U.S. fiber mill. None of the fur goes to waste. Even the leftover amounts make for a great weed barrier in our dye garden. We also put some in our bird houses, and constantly replenish them as the local birds love it for their nests.”

Their female herd of 13 produces about three to five babies a year, and they try to sell about the same number. Some want alpacas to be a part of their existing farm, some want alpacas just for their fiber, and others want to jump in with both feet and become breeders. Leanne’s recommendation for anyone interested in raising alpacas would be to visit many farms. 

Alpacas are herd animals and thrive with buddies so it’s better to start with at least three so they feel safe. Then determine what type of farm you want to have based on barn and pasture size, along with finances. It’s easier to stick with one gender so as not to require two separate facilities.

Also, they stay much healthier not co-habitating with other farm animals. They also tend to “graze” all the time, so they would not get enough to eat if there were just specific feeding times. Unlike most other livestock, they will not overeat so there is hay available 24/7/365, even in the months when they are eating pasture. 

In addition to tours, Mistletoe Farm hosts bridal parties, engagements, homeschool events, and senior living trips. Their alpacas have even appeared in two music videos, and Alpha made it on an album cover.

Leanne says, “The alpacas have changed our lives in so many ways. I tell people it's our fur therapy! We love to share the joy and happiness they bring us with people of every age. The smiles and joy we see in our visitors bring us lots of happiness.”

Leanne and her lovable alpacas are a delight for all ages! Follow them @mistletoefarm for the most fun you will find on Instagram MistletoeFarmAlpacas.com. 

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