Alpaca Tales: Meet the cool, wooly herd at Fall City's Legacy Ranch

On a little ranch outside of Fall City, the Solene family lives and works with a small herd of alpacas. They're all involved in a business, Alpacas at Legacy Ranch, but sometimes, it's hard to say who's in charge.

Although Eric and his wife Leann make sure each of their 20 or so charges is fed and cleaned and sheared properly, it's the alpaca Gracie who has to give a final stamp (and snort) of approval to things.

When the couple corners the new cria (baby alpaca) last spring, so they can get a look at her gums and show her off a little, Gracie is close by to monitor the situation, although it's not her baby. She sniffs the bundle of soft, white hair and long, gawky legs in Eric's arms, gives Leann a comically questioning look, and then backs off, just a little.

That's generally how things are done in this family business, established in 2002. The Solenes started raising alpacas as a way to diversify their two-job income, at a time when few people knew much about the animals or their fiber.

"They say it's seven times warmer than sheepswool, and there's no lanolin, no scales," says Eric, making their fiber softer and less scratchy than other wool fibers.

He is eager to share the knowledge he's acquired about these animals, native to Peru, Bolivia and Chile, but becoming more common in the U.S. For example, their fiber is easy to dye with powdered drink mix, but is beautiful in its natural colors. They don't like to get too close to humans, because their only defense is running away, and they get very protective of their herd, like Gracie.

Although the Solenes have two Pyrenes-mix dogs specifically bred to protect the alpacas, they also have a watch-alpaca, a neutered male that stays in the same pen with the females, and gives a high, warbling warning cry if he sees anything unfamiliar approaching.

Alpacas at Legacy Ranch offers alpacas for sale, and stud services from its two-time Alpaca Owners and Breeders Association blue-ribbon winner Onyx de Mico. There is also a gift shop, selling fiber, yarn, and clothing made from alpaca fiber. The ranch has been featured in the King County Farm Tour in the past, and was recently a stop on the Sno-Valley Tilth farm tour.

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