|By DOUG GRAVES
LEBANON, Ohio — At this year’s Warren County Fair in Lebanon, the animal attractions included cats, dogs, chickens, goats, lambs, sheep, pigs, rabbits, llamas, cows and even alligators.
When fair officials needed a few alpacas for display, they turned to Vicky Brooks of Heatherbrook Farms in Franklin.
After all, Brooks has alpacas - a lot of alpacas. There are 260 alpacas roaming the Brooks farm on Hendrickson Road in central Warren County and many of those are on exhibit in a special tent at this year’s county fair.
“About four years ago we bought this farm and hired one person full-time to help clear the fencerows,” Brooks said of her 100-acre farm. “My husband said if we hired someone we needed something on the farm to produce income and help pay his salary. I had originally intended to grow flowers and vegetables.”
That latter plan seemed to be ideal, since Brooks is a registered master gardener and a gourmet chef.
“But because we have so many animals on the grounds I don’t have time to deal with gardening or cooking,” she said.
Like so many others, Brooks and her husband, David, purchased land in this rural setting to get away from congested city life. Peace in Warren County was foremost on their mind and raising alpacas on the farm never crossed their minds.
“We looked into growing blueberries and raising goats, but the goats were smelly and hard to handle,” she said. “My husband knew something about alpacas and took me to an alpaca farm. I was hooked.”
The couple started with just seven alpacas. And with these animals on the premise they had to change the grass because the alfalfa on the premise had too much protein. Today the herd grazes on orchard grass.
“We started out with 35 acres and bought land from a neighbor and eventually leased land from other neighbors. We needed more space,” she said.
Alpacas (adults and babies - or cria) roam freely within the confines of the protective fencing.
“We do have to worry about coyotes and that required perimeter fencing, but we now have non-climb fencing and the coyotes won’t try that hard to get in. But the coyotes are around,” Brooks said.
“Llamas can take care of themselves but the alpaca has no protection. Alpacas sound an alarm only whereas the llama will challenge a predator. We have a llama on the premise, and we call her our guard llama, even though it belongs to a client.”
During the recent heat wave the alpacas on the Brooks farm gathered in front of the many fans in the barns. Winter months with temperatures as low as 10 degrees F. suits the alpacas just fine.
“This is pretty much a low maintenance animal,” said Brooks, who is also a member of Ohio Farm Bureau.
Casey Hester, a full-time worker at the farm, prefers alpacas to other animals.
“Alpacas don’t tear up the ground like horses or cows do,” Hester said. “When they eat the grass they don’t pull it up by the root, they snip it off. They’re good grazers, and they help keep the grass low cut. And they’re quiet animals.”