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Of fleece and friends


CALLICOON — Maria Bravo ended up in Callicoon pretty much accidentally.

“My mother says we are here because of destiny,” said Bravo’s daughter, Alejandra, as she recounted the tale.

Seven years ago, Bravo had purchased 300 alpacas and planned to start a farm in Oregon. Those animals arrived at the U.S. quarantine facility at Stewart International Airport in Newburgh, as is standard procedure when livestock is imported. After the quarantine period had ended and the animals had been given a clean bill of health, a problem came up. There was no way to get the animals out of the quarantine facility.

“It was a bad winter,” Alejandra said. “The trucks [from Oregon] that were coming to pick up the alpacas made it as far as Chicago and they had to turn back.”

This is the point where destiny stepped in.

Needing somewhere to board her new herd, at least until the winter was over, Bravo was lucky enough to find a friend in Ed Boyd, owner of the Double E Alpaca Farm in the Town of Bethel. That planned few-week stay turned into a few months, then into a full year.

During that time, Boyd and Bravo put together an event to show off their animals, sell some products and get others more familiar with the little-known animal. The event was a success, but the best part of it came right at the end.

Contributed photo
On a slight hill overlooking Callicoon, the alpaca herd of Quintessence Alpaca International provides a distinctly different type of farm experience. (Click for larger image)

“The last customer,” Alejandra said, “had come to buy a dress for his wife… he ended up buying 20 alpacas.” He added those alpacas to the list of livestock he had at his ranch in Callicoon. A few years ago, when he and his wife decided to leave the area, Bravo purchased the ranch property and moved her herd there. Since then, her business has only grown stronger.

Alpacas are generally considered some of the most “user-friendly” animals that people can own. They are comparatively low maintenance (some say they are less troublesome to maintain than dogs), do not require vast grazing fields (an average of about one acre per five animals) and very personable (alpacas love children as much as children love alpacas).

Contributed photos
Alpaca fleece, which can be softer than cashmere and warmer than wool, is sought after for products as diverse as scarves, jackets and teddy bears. (Click for larger images)

The fleece produced and collected annually can be softer than cashmere or silk and warmer than wool. It holds dye very well, but dying isn’t usually necessary since alpaca fleece naturally comes in about 22 different colors. “They are one of the only animals,” said Alejandra, “that produce jet black [fleece].”

Quintessence, in addition to its Callicoon operation, has ranches in seven countries. Besides the outlet attached to the Callicoon ranch, it has shops selling alpaca products in Jeffersonville and on Madison and Lexington Avenues in New York City. It’s getting ready to begin exporting to Spain, a new market for the company.

The ranch is open for sales, of both animals and products, regularly from about 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 or 7:00 p.m. It’s also where the family lives, so special appointments are no problem. “It’s easy for us,” said Alejandra. “We just open the door and let people in.”

To contact Quintessence Alpaca International, call 845/482-3776.

News & columns provided by The River Reporter