GRAY — Although they were longtime animals lovers, John and Carol Furman barely knew what an alpaca was when they they stepped inside a New Gloucester alpaca show in 2009.
They just thought the show sounded fun.
They came away alpaca converts.
Today, the couple owns Roberto, Domingo, Dania, Elizabeth and Max. They have 39 of them in all.
The Furmans run Carrageen Alpacas in Gray, where they breed, raise and show alpacas and sell items made from alpaca fleece. In the past five years, they’ve transformed 10 acres of woods behind their home into an alpaca paradise, complete with sunny pastures, high fences to protect against predators and a big barn where the herd animals can gather together.
“They are so pleasant to be around,” John said. “They’re very gentle, quiet.”
Fascinated by the alpaca show, the couple spent months researching the animals — their health needs, their space needs, their temperament. Soon they’d bought six alpacas and boarded them at another farm. In a year, they’d built the barn and created pastures.
Within two years, the farm had its first babies.
“They are ridiculously cute,” John said, holding 6-day-old Roberto, the farm’s latest newborn.
The farm specializes in suri alpacas, an uncommon breed whose fleece is straight and rope-like compared to its fluffier alpaca counterpart.
“It’s kind of afro versus dreadlocks,” said Caroline Ross, farm assistant.
Newborn alpacas can weigh up to 20 pounds. The biggest adults can weigh up to 200 pounds — not to be confused with llamas, which can weigh twice as much.
“People always think they’re llamas,” Carol said.
With fuzzy ears, big eyes and serene expressions, the Carrageen farm alpacas are easy to love. However, they aren’t so easy to cuddle.
Curious but skittish by nature, they flee at any sudden movement.
“The best way to approach an alpaca is not to approach an alpaca,” John said. “They’ll come to you eventually.”
A music teacher in South Portland and a trumpet instructor at Bates College in Lewiston, John spends his mornings and evenings with the alpacas. Carol, who is a clarinet instructor at Bates and plays with the Midcoast Symphony Orchestra, cares for the animals during the day.
They hope the farm, with its fleece sales and breeding program, will eventually help them pay for retirement. But just being around alpacas makes the work worth it.
“Even if I didn’t make any money at it, it’s so … ” John trailed off.
“Relaxing,” Carol said.
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