It is the classic American farm story - generations toiling together to raise livestock, share the chores and make a good living from the land. This story is taking a new turn with the Hilty family of Medway in Clark County.
Previous generations may not have envisioned alpaca farming in Ohio, but now the state and alpaca farming are earning national recognition thanks to the Hiltys. This weekend Clark County residents are invited to see it for themselves as part of National Alpaca Farm Days.
Holdfast Hilty Alpaca Farms, co-owned by Dan Hilty and his son, Caleb, is located on the same tract of land with the original house where Dan grew-up. Both had careers in sales in a business Dan owned before he decided after 35 years that he needed more exercise and it was a good opportunity to return to the homestead. His wife suggested raising alpacas.
They started with a few for their grandchildren to raise as 4-H projects. The farm has evolved into the third best medium-sized alpaca farm in the nation, an honor bestowed by the Alpaca Owners Association. Their herd of 70+ alpacas will be introduced to visitors when the farm joins in participating in the 16th annual National Alpaca Farm Days on Saturday and Sunday. Admission is $5 per vehicle or $2 per person for walk-ins.
From 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, guests visiting the farm can join in activities including hayrides, a photo booth, food trucks, and more. Face painting will be provided for a donation by Caleb Hilty’s daughter, Hailey, and the other members of her Clark County Camelid Club, popularly featured at the Clark County Fair. There will also be homemade fresh ice cream available, churned out by an antique hit/miss homemade ice cream wagon.
The farm again became a multi-generation family endeavor when Caleb left his job and joined Dan as co-owner. “I did 4-H and FFA when I was a kid, raising dairy feeders and steer. I always enjoyed agriculture but never expected to get into farming.” His three children and wife all also play active roles at the farm, including mowing, felting alpaca fleece for sale in the shop located on site, stall cleaning and animal grooming. Caleb is the primary showman, traveling across country to participate in alpaca competitions.
“Members of our herd have won multiple champion and reserve champion banners in halter and fleece shows across the country, and we recently received the AOA 2020 Classic Breeder Cup for our alpaca named Molten Steel, named for his rose grey coloring. That’s like winning best of show at the Westminster Dog Show,” he grins.
Don’t know your alpaca from your llama? Dan calls them “non-bumpy camels.” While alpaca and llamas are closely related, alpacas are typically smaller than llamas. Their natural habitat is in the South American mountains, and because they enjoy cool to cold weather they have adapted well to the Ohio terrain.
Alpacas are inquisitive, unique animals, that produce luxury fiber used to produce knitted and woven items, including clothing such as hats, socks, sweaters, and blankets. All of these will be offered for purchase in the on-site store.
While alpacas are the ones known to spit if they feel threatened, Caleb says not to worry. “Ours have been around kids so much they have been thoroughly hazed and know how to deal with humanity. The only time they spit is when they get a medical injection and when they get sheared.” Alpacas have an 11 month gestation period, so they only produce one “cria” (Spanish for ‘baby) a year. That’s also how often they get sheared, enabling humans to enjoy their soft, silky and durable fleece in a variety of products.
To be kind to alpacas its recommended approaching slowly and calmly, talking in a soft voice. Keep the hand flat to pat them around the back, shoulders and neck. Always ask the handler what the alpaca likes.
Holdfast Hilty Alpaca Farm is located at 12026 Lower Valley Pike in Medway. If driving from Springfield, take Interstate 70 to the Route 4 Exit towards Dayton and turn left onto Lower Valley Pike; if coming from Dayton, Lower Valley Pike will be on your right just before reaching the I-70/Route 4 cloverleaf. Follow until you see the Holdfast sign on your left.
To find out more about National Alpaca Farm Days, visit www.AlpacaFarmDays.com. To learn more about Holdfast Alpaca Farms, visit www.facebook.com/hiltyfarms.