Tucked away on a farm on the outskirts of Bryan, Texas, a throng of alpacas laze around in a pasture occasionally making humming noises. The fuzzy flock sounds more like a group of hyper kids with kazoos than a pack of farm animals.
Donna Lamarche and her family scarcely notice the noise anymore.
24 friendly looking, wide-eyed creatures, some sporting topknots, lumber around the family’s farm.
“It’s hard to believe that there was an even a time before alpacas,” Lamarche said.
Lamarche, a longtime employee at Texas A&M University before retiring, had never even imagined owning an alpaca before stumbling across an ad on television.
Donna fell instantly in love, and now the fluffy, meditative creatures are an important part of life for Lamarche and her husband, Alex. The couple care for 24 alpacas and a handful of llamas on their small farm, Royal Oaks Alpacas.
“We love each one,” Lamarche said. “We know all of the names, and each one has their own personality.”
The couple never thought they’d own a farm, much less own a herd of alpacas but after their son Michael Lamarche suffered permanent brain damage from a car accident at 16, Donna and Alex knew they had to make big changes to their lives.
After their son graduated high school, Donna and Alex retired early to care for him. They opened up the farm partly to give themselves something to do in their early retirement, and partly with the hopes that caring for the alpacas would help Michael regain some of his short-term memory.
“At the begging you’d tell Michael to do this and do that,” Lamarche said. “He couldn’t do the that and now he can. And all that is partly because of the animals. Animals do that. Whether it’s horses or alpacas or whatever, there’s a gift animals have to help someone who has a deficit.”
The couple earns a meager profit by offering farm tours and selling the soft alpaca fleece which has long been prized as the raw material for luxurious fabric.
“We’re not in it to make money,” Lamarche said. “We originally hoped to make some money for our retirement and that didn’t work out but we just fell in love with them. This really is a labor of love for us now and the alpacas have been a real blessing for us with my son.”
Michael even has an alpaca named after him, Don Miguel de Pantalones (which, translates to “Michael with pants”). When Miguel was born the coloring of his fur (his front half was mostly white while his back half was mostly orange-brown) made it appear as if he was wearing pants.
The Lamarche’s frequently open up their farm for tours by appointment. Royal Oaks also has a farm store, where customers can purchase alpaca yarn and other items made from alpaca fiber.