What’s as smart as a horse, as lazy as a cow, and as curious as a cat? Why, an alpaca, of course. Just ask Alicia Holbrook. She and Eric, her husband, own Carolina Pride Pastures LLC in Pomaria, where they raise and breed Huacaya and Suri alpacas.
“They can be very clever and willful. Food is a great way to get them to come to you,” Alicia says, “but if they think you are bribing them, they will ignore you.”
The farm currently is home to 22 alpacas, four llamas, and an adorable lone mix of the two. “She was a surprise and an accident!” Alicia says. After spending 10 years working in the field of human resources, Alicia became inspired to start an alpaca farm, quite literally overnight.
“I blame it on my youngest daughter. She had just been born, and I got up in the middle of the night with her,” she says. “I turned on the TV and watched a National Geographic show about alpacas. I was in love. The next morning, I told Eric about it.”
That was in 2011. The couple embarked on two years of research before starting Carolina Pride Pastures in 2013 with two acres of land and a starter herd of five pregnant females. They also had a plan; however, often the best laid plans …
“We are animal lovers. Of course we love our cats and dogs. But we wanted an animal we could harvest a crop from and not hurt in any way,” Alicia says. “Our business model at first was to sell alpacas and sheer the fleece off them. Since then, we have yet to sell an animal. They are a financial investment, but they are also a family.”
By nature, alpacas are mostly quiet and gentle, and they are also highly social animals that prefer to be in the company of other alpacas. Families considering alpacas for pets should plan on purchasing at least two. In fact, most respectable breeders will not sell a single alpaca by itself.
“They don’t want to be alone,” Alicia says. “Even after weaning, moms and babies still sleep together, side by side. Someone with a big backyard can have alpacas. They are really friendly with everybody. We call them the ambassadors of the farm.”
On average, alpacas live from 15 to 20 years, and females can have babies, called crias, for most of those years, producing up to a dozen crias in their lifetime. Alpaca pregnancies last 11 1/2 months, and they can be bred at any time of the year. The purchase price for an alpaca can vary widely. Alpacas from a rescue organization might be adopted for as little at $50. In contrast, they also can cost as much as $2,000. “If you are just wanting a pet, you probably will spend about $250,” Alicia says.
A fully grown alpaca will weigh between 100 to 200 pounds and is fairly low maintenance. They need to be vaccinated every year, get their toenails trimmed three to four times a year, and be sheared at least once a year to help keep them cool during the summer months. Hay is their primary diet, but it is best to consult a veterinarian. In addition, alpacas need plenty of water. In the summer, one alpaca can drink as much as 4 liters of water per day.
Teacups Runneth Over?
When her then teenage sons, Tucker and Mac, went to the annual Repticon reptile show at the Jamil Temple back in 2017, Kristin Johnson did not worry that they might bring a lizard home. After all, they were only going to look. But something else caught their attention, and what they did bring home that fateful day profoundly changed the lives of the Johnson family.
“They met a guy at the show who had potbellied pigs, and he told them they were mini “teacup” pigs that would be 30 pounds max and wouldn’t need any veterinary care,” Kristin says. “So they bought two of them and surprised me with the pigs as a gift.”
The smooth-talking vendor told the boys that one of the pigs was a female and the other a male. The family named them Bella and Cody.
“We found out quickly that Bella was a boy, so we changed his name to Dez, short for Desmond,” she says. “They are super cute. We fell in love with them. However, now they weigh 100 pounds each.”
That’s right. The tiny teacups runneth over.
“I think the boys were just trying to be super sweet and surprise me,” she adds, “but now we have actually become attached to them.”
Kristin had the baby pigs neutered immediately. Dez and Cody stay in a pen in the garage of the family’s Irmo home and also roam the large backyard. “When they were tiny, we had them in the house,” she says. “Then they got bigger and started tearing and eating the sheetrock.”
As it turns out, both piglets were sick when they came into the Johnson home.
“When the boys got the pigs, they were unhealthy,” Kristin says. “These people who travel around selling them as mini pigs that don’t require any vet care are just unscrupulous.”
For this reason, those considering a potbellied pig as a pet should seek out reputable breeders or rescue organizations. The City of Columbia considers miniature pet pigs as livestock and, therefore, unlawful to keep within the city limits. However, areas outside the city do allow pet pigs.
Experts recommend that potbellied pigs eat hay and grass to promote digestion, fresh non-starchy vegetables such as leafy greens, and commercial pig chow or pellets to ensure they get the protein they need. Avoid feeding them sweets or fatty table scraps. If pig owners are going to give their animals treats now and then, they should do so sparingly, as obesity is the top cause of health problems and death in potbellied pigs.
Kristin says Dez and Cody’s absolute favorite treat is Cheerios. They will compete and head-butt one another to get at the tasty cereal. They also can be funny and quite quirky at times. “They are very peculiar. They don’t like to go out when it’s dark unless I go out with them with a flashlight. And they don’t like the rain.”
Over time, Kristin has observed that the pigs have distinct personalities and can be hilarious to watch. “Dez was the sicker one when he was little. Since he has gotten better, he is by far the more dominant one. And he is only half the size of Cody,” she says. “He is the braver one too. Cody is more timid.”
Under the right circumstances, potbellied pigs can be excellent pets. They are highly intelligent and can be trained to walk on a leash and even to use a litter box. Because they are smart and curious, however, they also can manipulate and create trouble; therefore, the owner must establish their respect immediately and discipline them consistently. In addition, potbellied pigs are believed to be non-allergenic, flea-free, and, contrary to common belief, odor-free. Their average life expectancy is about 15 years.
As with any pet, ownership is a commitment for the life of the animal. In addition to their food, regular veterinary care includes spaying or neutering, vaccinations, worming, as well as regular trimming of tusks and hooves. It is important to understand that potbellied pigs are not guaranteed to stay small and can grow 100 to 150 pounds. Because they can grow so large, many potbellied pigs end up re-homed. In fact, research suggests that as many as 90 percent of potbellied pigs are given up within the first year. Pigs become very attached to their owners and actually suffer depression when separated from them. And it has been reported that they cry real tears.
“This should be a huge lesson to people,” Kristin says. “The vet said that ‘teacup pigs’ don’t actually exist. You don’t know how big they are going to get.”
‘Do You Know There’s a Goat on Your Roof?’
Molly Hutchison of Hopkins once had a pet goat named Peaches, a loving and sometimes comical presence on the family’s property. Being a lone goat, she adopted her humans and their other more domesticated pets as her “herd.” She played enthusiastically in the yard with the family dogs and learned much of her behavior from them. Still, Molly doubts that Peaches actually believed she was a dog herself. She also had a penchant for head-butting and hanging out on high perches.
“When I got Peaches, she was just four days old, and I started bottle-feeding her,” Molly says. The little fluffball quickly became attached to her adoptive mother, so much so that she clearly preferred Molly over all others. Because of this, some jealousy may have existed among the ranks. “She loved only me and definitely was protective of me. She loved to sit on my lap. Trent, my husband, and three daughters swore that I loved the goat more than any of them!”
Because Peaches seemed to enjoy head-butting people and dogs, safety measures were in order. “She grew some pretty significant horns — 6 to 8 inches long,” Molly says. “For a while we put tennis balls on her horns because they were pretty darn sharp.”
Peaches also loved any kind of corn chip. “If we went outside and rustled a bag of chips, she would come out of nowhere.”
It wasn’t long before Peaches caught the notice of passersby.
“She loved to be on high things. She was prone to get on the hood of our car or on our grill,” Molly says. “Peaches got on the roof frequently by using a stairwell in the back of the house that goes to the attic. It was hysterical. Any UPS or FedEx delivery person who came to the house would say, ‘Do you know there’s a goat on your roof?’”
One day in the spring of 2017, when Peaches was about 4 years old, Molly noticed that she was not ruminating, which is essential for a healthy goat’s digestion. To the uninitiated, ruminating is the equivalent of cud-chewing often seen among goats. Goats, which have four stomach compartments, regularly bring up partially digested food into their mouths and chew it again. This recurs several times a day as part of their normal digestive process. When they stop ruminating, it is a sign that something is wrong.
Molly rushed Peaches to the vet, but it was too late. Peaches passed away.
“I have never grieved an animal quite like this,” she says. “I was so heartbroken.”
Molly says goats are quite funny but also can be mischievous and get into all manner of things. She is not sure if she would get another goat, but if she did, she is certain she would need to get two or three, because they are herd animals and need the company of other goats. Of course, the family would need to be on board with it.
“My girls would be 100 percent behind it, no questions asked,” she says. “But Trent is so happy to have his yard back since he is a landscaper. It would be a really hard sell for him. We would probably need a different kind of living environment. They wouldn’t be free-roaming like Peaches was.”