A furry life and local tradition – Alpaca farming in N.C.

by | Sep 25, 2020

Every Friday on social media, we post a Farm Feature Friday showcasing one of our dedicated North Carolina farmers. Mike and Shelly Walsh, of Good Karma Ranch, are two of those farmers. The #FarmFeatureFriday campaign will run through December 2021 on our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages. Be sure to tune in each Friday afternoon on social and help show your support for our local farmers!

Tomorrow, September 26, is National Alpaca Farm Day, a holiday that one local farm celebrates year round! Many farmers invest in and raise livestock animals, from goats and pigs to horses and cattle. Mike and Shelly Walsh, however, decided to take the road less traveled and start an alpaca farm. “When we moved to Iron Station in 2004, we really just enjoyed living in the countryside surrounded by livestock,” Shelly said, “but having only 10 acres on our farm really limited us to the animals we could effectively raise.”

Current owners of Good Karma Ranch Alpacas, neither Mike nor Shelly grew up on a farm, but fell in love with the lifestyle fairly quickly. The ranch is currently home to about 30 or 40 alpaca that are bred and raised on the farm as well as shaved once a year to harvest their fiber. “Our business is efficient because it utilizes three channels: (1) Breeding, (2) Agritourism and (3) Retail,” Mike said, “every April, we harvest the alpaca fiber, which does not hurt them, and send it to a fiber co-op to make garments like socks and hats.” According to him and Shelly, alpaca fiber makes a warmer and softer garment than sheep’s wool. “It is distinctively stronger than sheep’s wool and, because they do not have to use any chemicals when cleaning, it is also proven to be hypo-allergenic,” Shelly explained.

A typical day on the farm includes taking care of the animals, conducting farm maintenance, mowing pastures and conducting farm tours. “It’s better than an 8-to-5 job because we get to make our own schedule and educate the public on the benefits of alpacas on a daily basis,” Mike said. All the alpacas on their farm have names and are spoiled with love and affection. “They are like our family and we certainly get attached to them,” Shelly said, “we want them to have the best life possible, so we go as far as providing them with fans in the summer that they can lay in front of when they get hot.”

Although it is very difficult when an animal is sick or passes away, Mike and Shelly say there is nothing more rewarding than seeing the fruits of their labor come to fruition. “Farming is not easy,” Mike said, “so knowing that we have done it, that all of our hard work has got us to the spot we are in right now, operating a profitable farm and providing products that people love and enjoy, is incredibly rewarding.”

Products from Good Karma Ranch can be found in their online store or at their farm. They also offer a variety of agritourism events that will give you an excuse to visit, including artwork in the pasture and alpaca yoga. “Yoga has been a big hit and the alpacas seem to enjoy interacting with everyone,” Shelly said, “additionally, we love to partner with small women-owned businesses in Charlotte to bring a variety of crafts and trades for people to learn while sitting in the pasture with the animals.”

Mike and Shelly want to encourage the public to come out and learn about alpacas and even consider raising them yourself. “They are great animals to work with and we need more farmers willing to put in the work to raise them and harvest their fiber in the United States,” Mike said. Good Karma Ranch is a member of our Got To Be N.C. program where they encourage buying local products because it impacts and directly helps the families near you. “It just makes sense to me,” Shelly said, “this is our local community and these are the people that we can directly impact and help.”

In the future, they hope to expand Good Karma’s online retail presence and continue educating the public on the importance of alpaca farming. When they are not on the farm, you can find them at local breweries across North Carolina, trying new brews and enjoying quality time together.