Art and Val Bradford are embarking on an adventure that few might consider as they approach their golden years: raising alpacas, the slightly smaller camelid cousins of llamas.
On their farm in Menifee are huacaya alpacas of varying colors, genders and ages. The animals can be seen gathering together, eating and enjoying the Southern California sunshine.
The farm, Alpacas of Menifee Valley, sells practically everything alpaca, including alpaca babies, alpaca breedings, alpaca fiber, alpaca feed and clothing items made from alpaca fleece yarn. It’s a business the Bradfords have become enamored with, but were not considering initially.
“We were originally going for a couple pets,” Val Bradford said.
The Bradfords had only recently located to the Inland region from their Orange County home of 25 years when they decided to visit Alpacafest West, a show for the animals in Norco.
After the visit they began doing some research and determined that they wanted to start an alpaca farm of their own. They moved to a property in Menifee and the adventure began.
Art Bradford says there’s a lot that goes into raising healthy, happy alpacas. Each of the alpacas is regularly fed hay and water and they’re given pellets three times a week as a dietary supplement.
“Definitely you monitor what you feed them and you just take exceptional care of them,” he said. “You put them ahead of pretty much anything else as far as the quality of feed that you’re feeding them.”
Art Bradford said that when the animals go to sale, their well-being is considered before anything else.
“I’ll tell you no,” he said. “I won’t sell you an alpaca. I won’t sell you a half a dozen alpacas if I don’t think they’re going to go to a proper set up. I just won’t do it. I don’t think it’s good for the industry to do it.”
Val said that she and her husband have even gone to the properties of prospective buyers to make sure that the alpacas they sell would be properly cared for.
“The way I look at is if we’re going to do this, we’re going to do it right,” Art Bradford said. “That’s our intention so we’re going to market to people we know are going to be like-minded.”
When they’re not on the farm with their prized animals, the Bradfords are out showing them at competitions where the animals are judged on their fleece, teeth, and other aspects of their appearance.
The Bradfords have also participated in competitions around the country where only their alpacas’ fleece is judged.
For those competitions they mail in a square sample of about two ounces of fiber to different locations and that fiber is judged with the fibers of alpacas from all over the country. They’ve won competitions in such locations as Virginia and South Carolina without having gone there.
Art Bradford says the mail-in competitions are another barometer to see how their animals stack up, but they’re not the preferred method.
We mostly want to go to shows, we want to show the animal, we want to know how our animals stack up against the region’s or the nation’s best animals and that’s where we’re beginning to make the shift now.
The judges at shows obviously know a lot about the animals, but the Bradfords love to teach novices all about them. They regularly set up farm days where people can feel alpaca fleece, learn about raising the animals and tour the farm.
Art Bradford says he’s surprised how quickly he and his wife have adapted to raising the animals.
“We knew we would like it but I didn’t really realize that we would like it to the point that we do,” he said. “To the point that we’re going to make a business, a serious business, out of it.”