THURMOND — The Ridenour Ranch located at 258 Seven Oaks Way in Thurmond is celebrating National Alpaca Farm Day on Saturday and Sunday. The celebration will be the ranch’s first exposure to the public after construction began on it over a year ago.
The ranch’s hours will be on Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
National Alpaca Farm Day helps promote the farms and gets the public understanding more about Alpacas and the products that their fiber and fleece produces which is used to make scarfs, gloves, socks, hats, jackets, vests, and coats.
The ranch is owned by retiree Mike Ridenour and his wife Susie Ridenour. The two had been been interested in opening an alpaca farm after falling in love with the animals and the products their fleece produces.
“It’s like wool, but it doesn’t have that itchy feeling that wool has but it’s still insulating,” said Mike Ridenour. “We plan to have fiber artists here, Leslie Fesperman and Ruth Hutton, both days to demonstrate fiber spinning and the process of making a product.”
The ranch property was bought about a year and a half ago and the Ridenours restored the old home and buildings over the course of a year.
“I retired from real estate and we were living in Arizona,” said Mike Ridenour. “We decided we wanted to move back east, but we wanted to get below the snow belt but also didn’t want to live as far south as South Carolina or Georgia so we settled in on North Carolina. We were big fans of Asheville, but the real estate costs were quite high so when we were searching for property in Asheville, Elkin kept coming back up on our Google search. We started looking at real estate in this area and found the values to be appealing. We came out here and were originally searching for five to 10 acres and a cabin. However, through divine inspiration, we found this lot here andas soon as we saw this valley and the stream, before you knew it, we owned 95 acres of ranch.”
“The house was pretty much falling in on itself and has undergone a radical restoration,” said Susie Ridenour. “Part of the old log home still remains in the bedroom. We actually bought an RV and parked it on the property while we restored the house. It wasn’t too easy to live in an RV for one year.”
This year the Ridenours have been building two barns, one for hay and equipment storage, and another one for the alpacas and the fiber production.
The Ridenour Ranch also has grass-fed beef cattle, chickens and two ponies gifted by a close friend. They also will have sheep and goats soon while they wait for the transaction to occur. However, the focus of this weekend is the ranch’s 23 alpacas and the llama named Shoulda who helps protect them.
“The industry for alpacas has been growing in the United States,” explained Mike Ridenour. “The value of the animals have come down substantially and people are focusing on the fiber and fleece. We ended up talking to some people who had an alpaca farm. They were getting older and wanted to get out of it so we were able to buy out their farm, their livestock, equipment, bowls, gates, everything.”
Mike Ridenour grew up in the country and around farms and has always been interested in owning a farm.
“My idea of retirement isn’t to stop working,” said Mike Ridenour. “My idea of retirement is to have something to work on that I want to do every day. There’s always something to do on a farm which is great, from feeding animals, performing general maintenance, there’s always something. We have 35 acres of hay we cut three times a year and timber on the property. It’s a full-time job.”
Alpacas are originally from Peru where alpaca fiber and fleece is a major industry. There are only about 2,500 alpacas in the United States compared to more than 5 million animals in Peru. Peru also has more industries in place for processing alpaca fiber and producing products.
The Ridenours also are hoping to work with local fiber artists in the area.
“Our desire is to use our raw fiber to produce products,” said Mike Ridenour. “Once you send the raw fiber out to the mill, there is an expense to that. We can work with fiber artists and can trade fiber to help benefit both sides of the coin.”
The Ridenour’s llama Shoulda helps protect the herd, but the ranch also has a Great Pyrenees named Bandit, who will be the guardian of the animals.
“We have eight alpacas who are pregnant and you need a guard animal for them because we’ve had coyotes in the area,” said Susie Ridenour. “We’re planning on getting a second dog in the future.”
“We’re really big fans of the fiber and the products they produce,” said Mike Ridenour. “They’re also a gentle livestock. If you’re in a field with cattle and there’s a bull in there, you have to be cautious. There’s no aggression with alpacas. The only thing you need to think about it getting spit on. The spit is not self-defense, it’s more of a communication method between them or me. Most of the spitting occurs when they go in to eat. If one tries to eat out of another’s bowl, they’ll spit at each other.”
The Ridenour Ranch can be reached at 336-466-9914 or at [email protected]
Troy Brooks may be reached at 336-258-4058.