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Oh, Sophia!

And What's an Alpaca, Anyway?

We’re having a mild one this year in Boise. Sure, it’s cold enough to curl up by the couch and watch Grace Kelly. But is it cold enough to put on your alpaca socks?

An alpaca’s not a llama, no matter what people say. For one thing, they’re smaller. And cuter. And they won’t spit on you, or bite, or make you itchy if you throw on an alpaca sweater. In fact, if you stick your nose up in an alpaca’s face, and breathe her sweet breath, you’ll find the scent rather pleasant. Did I mention how cute they are? Those eyelashes, man, and those weird, crooked teeth!

Valerie Dresslar and David Jones run a ranch to rack operation at Sweet Valley Alpacas. They’re less than a half hour from downtown Boise, over by Robie Creek. Valerie claims it’s David’s fault they’re now alpaca ranchers. They certainly didn’t need to become alpaca ranchers. They own a lumber company called Millwood Direct, and Valerie’s the elections director for Boise County. Valerie didn’t even know what an alpaca was back in 2017, when David said “hey, do you want to stop by an alpaca ranch?” It was love at first sight, and a few phone calls later, Sweet Valley Alpacas was born, starring two females. Now, they’re up to eighteen animals, including two onboard (pregnant) females.

The first year, the animals didn’t pay for themselves, so the couple had to get creative to generate some income. That’s when they started their yarn company, working with a local mill, as well as going to shows like the Red Chair Lavender Festival, Trailing of the Sheep, and even the Eagle Christmas Craft Bazaar. It only took a couple of years till Valerie and David turned a profit.

And why shouldn’t they? Alpaca fleece is lighter, warmer, and stronger than wool, plus it doesn’t itch. It’s a higher quality fleece than, say, llama fleece, but Valerie and David have nothing against llamas. As I mentioned earlier, llamas are bigger, and they have those adorable banana ears. Llamas are useful for protecting your herd. They’ll stomp a coyote like nobody’s business, or even a cougar or mountain lion. It’s just that their fleece is nowhere near as desirable as an alpaca’s.

Did I mention alpacas are smart? They know their own names, and they have distinct personalities. Some are friendly and come right up to you, others are a little more standoffish. They certainly love to be photographed.

With all these upsides, you’d think that alpaca ranching would be a cutthroat, competitive business. Every mob boss this side of the Sawtooths would want in on the action. The reality is anything but that. Valerie and David are the quintessential alpaca ranchers. They’re in it for the love of the animals, and they’re not unique in that way. According to Valerie, everyone in the business wants to help each other and educate the public about these glorious creatures.

Now, I may be biased. My wife, Penny, has already expressed a desire for me to bring home Sophia, her all-time favorite little camelid. The thing is, these are herd animals. You must bring home at least two. And let’s face it, I couldn’t even fit one in the back of my Volvo. But alpaca socks are another story. I can fit a whole bunch of those in my sock drawer, and even though we’re experiencing a mild Boise winter, a warm pair of alpaca socks is just the thing you want on your feet as you sip your hot cocoa and catch up on your Grace Kelly movies.