It’s a cool, crisp autumn afternoon and Marj Brady is shovelling poop. Nothing out of the ordinary here. On her farm, Amazing Graze Alpacas, located just north of Stirling in Hastings County, there is no shortage of poop to be shovelled. It’s one of the many daily tasks required to keep her farm running smoothly.
On this particular day, Ricky, one of her 22 male alpacas, is lively. He is hyper-aware of the 14 female alpacas quietly grazing two fences over. He’s posturing for the ladies and acting like a fool – similar to the drunk guy at the bar who puts on a tough guy act. “Settle down, Ricky,” says Marj. “Your father is going to put you in your place if you’re not careful.” She’s referring to Ricky’s 12-year-old father, Monty, who isn’t too old to show him who’s boss. As usual, her herd of alpacas makes Marj laugh. “They all have unique personalities and I love observing them,” she said.
Marj hasn’t always been a farmer. She was born and raised at Yonge and Finch in Toronto. She worked in the financial services industry for 25 years and was good at her job, but changes in the industry were wearing on her and she wanted out. “It’s not good when you drive into work and you’re crying,” said Marj.
She visited Newfoundland with her husband Steven Martin and their kids Douglas and Jennifer in 2002. This vacation opened her eyes to a different way of life and she became more certain that she didn’t want to continue working for a bank. She first thought about goat farming, but decided they breed too quickly and she didn’t like the idea of having to kill animals. Alpacas, however, are utilized for their fleece and, with a gestation period of 11 months paired with judicious breeding practices, over-crowding shouldn’t be an issue.
Marj bought two pregnant alpacas at a farm in Aurora. She boarded them at that farm and spent weekends there to learn about husbandry and alpaca care. When her two lassies got pregnant again, she and Steven realized the boarding fees would be like a mortgage payment and they’d be better off buying their own farm and giving this alpaca thing a real go.
They searched for a farm within a two-hour drive from Toronto. Based on what they could afford and what was available, a 47-acre farm in Hastings County fit the bill. Life changed in a big way for these former city-dwellers who had no previous farm experience. “I had wanted a pony as a kid, but that was the extent of it,” said Marj.
During their first winter on the farm in 2004, their pipes were frozen for 30 days. Everything was just different and, as with most new ventures, a little bit stressful. “I don’t worry about as many things now as I did 10 years ago,” said Marj. “Do I have firewood, hay and water? Those are the big things.”
Marj and Steven sell some of their award-winning breeding stock and fibre animals to other farms, and they also profit from stud fees – this is when Ricky gets his chance to shine! But what Amazing Graze Alpacas is best known for is its incredible fleece, yarn and knitted products.
Each May, a professional shearer comes to the farm to rid the animals of their bulky, winter coats. This unbelievably soft fleece is sorted by Marj and sent to various mills across Canada. It takes anywhere from two to 12 months to get her yarn back. When it comes back, some is sent to a dyer, some goes to her knitters and weavers and some is kept to sell to a growing group of yarnies.
Marj knits some of her products herself – she particularly likes to knit hats and blankets. Other local knitters also create their unique items to be sold in Amazing Graze Alpacas’ shop in Marj’s farmhouse.
“I also sell big, fuzzy balls,” said Marj with a smile. She’s referring to her dryer balls, which are made from the not-so-great alpaca fibre that can’t be used for yarn. “They are environmentally-friendly, chemical-free and a great replacement for dryer sheets. They’re just hard to talk about without giggling,” said Marj.
Besides her farm, located at 127 Sine Road, Stirling, Ontario, a display of Amazing Graze Alpaca products (socks, insoles and yarn) can be found at Grills Orchards in Belleville.
Anyone interested in visiting Amazing Graze Alpacas can make an appointment with Marj through email – Marj@AmazingGrazeAlpacas.ca or by calling 613-395-6406. Or, attend one of Amazing Graze Alpacas’ Open House Events at 127 Sine Road, Stirling. All are welcome!
Fall Fibre Fun
November 12, 10a.m.-4p.m.
December 10 & 17, 10a.m.-4p.m.
Amazing Graze Alpacas will also be at Batawa Christmas Craft Fusion at the Batawa Community Centre on Saturday, November 19, 9a.m. – 3p.m.