|Yours truly with Old Mill Alpacas owner Amy Kung-Oliver. PICSELLS INTERNATIONAL PHOTO
A couple of weekends ago, I paid a visit to an alpaca farm located halfway between Brighton and Colborne at the invitation of a dear friend of mine.
The idea was to deliver a few blankets and towels for the animals and spend a couple of days “down on the farm” It turned out to be a life-changing experience.
Old Mill Alpacas is owned by Toronto transplant Amy Kung-Oliver.
Amy is one of the toughest, most amazing women I have ever met. Twice divorced, her second husband embezzled a large sum of money after moving on to the farm that Amy already owned, putting the business in deep financial peril. When she discovered the extent of the damage done, she kicked the guy out and with the limited funds she had left, focused all of her attention on keeping the farm going.
To say that it has not been easy is an understatement. She suffered a torn meniscus months ago, but can’t take the time off to allow it to properly heal because of the demands of running the farm by herself. She also has a bad back.
A former jewelry designer, Amy has had to sell most of her collection to help pay the bills. The revenue to cover operating costs is generated through a combination of guided tours, alpaca walks, and the sale of alpaca wool and knitted items like sweaters, mitts.
Amy is also dependent on a small group of volunteers who help with the daily chores and lead visitors on the guided tours and alpaca walks. She is also a member of WWOOF Canada.
WWOOF stands for WorldWide Oppor-tunities on Organic Farms and the people who take advantage of those opportunities are known as WWOOFers.
WWOOF was founded in 1971 in the UK and is one of the world’s first voluntourism and ecotourism organizations. WWOOF now exists in 132 countries (and growing) around the world including Canada which has been a part of the WWOOF movement since 1985.
WWOOFers volunteer their time working on member farms in exchange for room and board. The time spent working on the farm is decided between the farm’s owner and the WWOOFer. Some farms require a minimum commitment of one week, however, there are lots of weekend WWOOFers.
Once registered with the organization, WWOOFers can work on any member farm in the world. There are 656 farms currently registered with WWOOF Canada, including 14 farms in the National Capital Region.
When I arrived at Old Mill Alpacas, I met Darrell Pinto, who had just been laid off by a financial firm on Bay Street. He heard about WWOOFing through a friend and decided to check it out.
When he was looking for a farm, Darrell had several parameters – it had to be within two hours of the GTA and he wanted to avoid a situation where he might be working with migrant farm workers, or at least his wife wanted him to avoid a situation where he might be working with migrant farm workers due to her own fears about COVID-19 and reports that the virus was prevalent among migrant workers.
During my time on the farm I was Darrell’s right-hand farmhand. I helped feed the alpacas every morning which included making sure they had plenty of hay and their water buckets were full. I also helped clean up all the alpaca droppings and let me tell you, 84 alpacas can produce a lot of doo-doo.
In fact, an alpaca’s day consists of eating, pooing, eating, pooing and eating some more, occasionally interrupted by having to go on a walk with a visiting tourist. Actually only the boys get to go on the walks, the girls get to chill all day in the pasture.
The highlight of each day, besides spend-ing time with Amy – who is one of the most beautiful people I’ve ever been blessed to meet in my life – was running the alpacas to their assigned field every morning and back to the barn every night. It was hard work, but it was also tremendously rewarding work.
My only regret is that we never got to witness a birth. Three alpaca crias were born in the week before we arrived, including one the day before we arrived, and a fourth one was born four days after we left.
True fact – alpacas only give birth when they are good and ready and they never give birth in inclement weather. Alpaca gestation can take 11 to 12 months, but some mothers can carry their babies for as long as an extra month until they are ready to give birth.
Alpacas are wonderful animals. They are tremendously curious and they each have their own distinct personality.
To find out more about Old Mill Alpacas you can visit their website at oldmillalpacas.wordpress.com or their Facebook page at facebook.com/OldMillAlpacas.
The farm is located on Hwy. 2, halfway between Brighton and Colborne, about five minutes off the 401. (The Colborne exit is located at the famous Big Apple.)
The next time your heading to Toronto, why not call ahead and book a tour, or walk one of the alpacas. They take all the proper COVID-19 precautions and I’m sure Amy would love to see you. As for WWOOFing you can visit the WWOOF Canada website at wwoof.ca to learn more.
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