LODI — King James was showing off quite a bit in Lodi on Saturday.
He didn’t even dunk a basketball once, either. Of course, it would be pretty difficult for an alpaca to grip a basketball, let alone jump that high into the air.
This King James does not have the first name LeBron, and he doesn’t play in the NBA. He’s a suri alpaca at Whistling Valley Farm owned by Jan Clingman and Jim Hellenbrand just outside of Lodi.
King James and his friend Johnny Boy, another suri alpaca, were strutting their stuff Saturday during National Alpaca Farm Day. It’s the third year Clingman and Hellenbrand have participated in the annual event.
“It’s all for the kids,” Hellenbrand said.
Clingman said it has other value, too.
“It’s a great way for people to get educated about the alpaca industry,” she said.
Alice in Dairyland Rochelle Ripp of Lodi, who visited the farm for the day, said it’s about both.
“I think events like this are great,” she said. “The kids get a hands-on experience, which is a lot of fun for them, and the parents really learn something.”
Growing up on a dairy and cash crop farm gave her great experiences in agriculture, but Ripp said she had never visited an alpaca farm until this event. She said she learned all kinds of interesting facts about alpacas, like that their young are called cria.
“And they’re so soft,” Ripp said. “They look like they would be soft, but I was surprised at just how soft they really are.”
That’s why their fleece is great for knitting things such as socks, hats, mittens and other clothes, Clingman said. They can produce clothing that is hypoallergenic, making it a great alternative to regular wool.
Adult alpacas are typically about 3 feet in height at the withers, but another 18 inches or so is added when taking into account the neck and head. They are a cousin to the llama in the camelid family.
According to Zakk Percival, 10, of Chicago, they can spit like camels, too. Percival visits Whistling Valley often and takes care of many of the 50 alpacas at the Lodi farm because his grandpa works on the farm.
“I’ve gotten spit at, kicked at and bit,” Percival said. “Not very much, though. If it’s a girl that does it, she’s pregnant. If it’s a boy, he’s just mad.”
Clingman said they’re typically very curious and easygoing. Ripp said they were “friendly and nosy.”
Johnny Boy was getting pretty nosy with Rebekah Arthur. He put his nose right on the head of Arthur, 5, of Lodi, and started sniffing.
“He really like your hair,” Rebekah’s mother Shannon said.
Shannon Arthur said it was a great experience for her family. While her kids got to pet and feed the alpacas, she and her husband, Cliff, got all of their alpaca-related questions answered by Hellenbrand.
Tiana Thering, 7, of Edgerton, had a fun time feeding the alpacas with her grandma, Pat Loomis of Madison.
“It tickled,” Thering said after an alpaca gobbled up some food pellets from her hand.
She said that she liked them and thought they were really soft.
Bob Theel, a neighbor of Clingman and Hellenbrand’s, said they are beautiful animals.
“They’ve got a big black one. A female,” he said. “They named it Lola, after my wife.”
All things considered, it’s not bad to be equated to an alpaca. They’re very environmentally friendly animals.
They eat only until they’re full and their three-chamber stomach allows them to eat rougher grasses. Hellenbrand said it also makes them relatively easy to take care of on a daily basis.
“It only costs about $125 a year to maintain them,” he said.
The alpacas are fed about a cup of a corn-based meal beside the grass, Hellenbrand said.
Their toenails are tended to a few times a year at most and their fleece is shorn once a year, he said. They typically are able to get about 5 pounds or more of yarn from an adult alpaca.