July 18th, 2018

Legendary alpacas the focus of agritourism in Quebec

By Medicine Hat News on October 7, 2017.

Mansoor Ladha

Special to the News

During a recent visit to an alpaca farm in Quebec, I was presented with a pair of socks, made from alpaca fibre. Since such socks are not available in stores, this was a unique present.

Who are the alpacas, was my question? Alpacas are domesticated species of south America, resembling a small Ilama in appearance, belonging to the camel family — the difference being that while llamas are used as pack animals, alpacas are raised mainly for their soft wool. There are no wild llamas or alpacas.

I was able to enrich my knowledge of alpacas during a recent visit to Les Alpaga ferme Norli, an alpaca farm operated by the husband and wife team, Lise and Normand Pollender, in Quebec’s eastern town ships, a few hours driving from Quebec City. The couple whose passion has always been agriculture and animals resulted in their specializing in alpaca breeding and manufacturing products from their fine quality fibres.

“During an agricultural exhibition in 2000, I saw for the first time, an alpaca.I immediately fell in love with these little animals, as much for the softness of their character as the quality of their fibre,” remembers Lisa. The couple, also staunch pet lovers and fourth-generation farmers, have more than 100 different types of alpacas.

While touring the farm, Lise mentioned in passing that one of their female alpaca in her 100-herd may deliver a baby while we were touring the farm. The news was received with a lot of excitement among the group, specially photojournalists, for whom this would be once in a lifetime opportunity.

We continued touring the farm and taking pictures of groups of alpacas wandering around, eating grass and involved in various other activities. The farm also has a boutique where different merchandice made from alpaca hair is displayed and offered for sale to the public. “The boutique offers knitting yarn from our alpacas, spun directly from the farm in our spinning mill as well as knitwear for the whole family made by us and our knitters,” Lise proudly explained. For the home, one can buy beautiful rugs, bedspreads and cushions or gifts of scarfs or caps for the family.

Alpaca wool has unique characteristics as it is five times warmer and lighter than sheep’s wool and is considered a luxury fibre. Its quality even surpasses that of the Kashmir and its fibre comes in more than 22 natural colours which can be produced by mixing these fibres.

Our tour was interrupted when a staff member came running to inform us that the pregnant alpaca was ready to deliver. We all scrambled to secure a good vintage point to mark the occasion. Lise, accompanied by three staff, at once took charge of the operation, surrounding the expectant mother, forming a maternity team.

Birth of a child is an occasion for celebration and merriment. It’s also considered a good omen. To my utter amazement, I found out that even some animals celebrate a birth same as human beings do.

As the group watched with eagerness and excitement, we could see the baby’s feet first coming out from the mother’s body and within minutes the baby’s head cropped up, clearly seen to all onlookers. There was a sigh of jubilation and words of encouragement for the mom alpaca from the group, until the baby’s complete body was on the ground. The baby lay mercilessly on the ground and tried to get up several times, but failed. The mother sniffed the newly-born, who was surrounded by other alpacas as a sign of acceptance and welcome to their community. An incredible and amazing experience, but unfortunately not celebrated with cigars.

Lise explained that the alpaca fibre is elastic, resistant and thermal, making it perfect for different climates. “An item of alpaca wool clothing will maintain its corporal temperature in any type of environment. Its natural shine and its smoothness produces high quality wool, ideal for the textile industry especially as alpaca blankets,” she said.

Excited by the unique experience, we continued our tour of nature by visiting a captivating guided tour focusing on the life of bees and honey production. The Miellerie Lune de Miel, located just five minutes from Sherbrooke, offers tours of the fascinating world of bees and honey. Here, one can watch bees in action and listen to a professional beekeeper unravel the mysterious behaviour of bees and explain honey extraction process.

Despite suffering from diabetes, I couldn’t resist tasting 15 varieties of honey. One can find a variety of wrappings, candles, royal jelly, pollen, beauty products, and many souvenirs at their gift boutique. It’s definitely a fun place to visit for the entire family

Quebec’s Eastern Townships, are full of breathtaking scenery, picturesque villages and towns offering a warm welcome to visitors. Their tourist attractions and activities would fill your days, providing cozy accommodation and unique gourmet experiences. Tourists are bound to take with them precious memories home.

Mansoor Ladha is a Calgary-based journalist, travel writer and author of Portrait in Pluralism: Aga Khan’s Shia Ismaili Muslims (Detsling) and Memoirs of a Muhindi (University of Regina Press).

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