Kicker, Brownie and other resident alpacas at JoNell farm.Sue Guinn Legg/Johnson City Press
Less than three weeks out from the start of spring, the alpacas at JoNell Farm are due for a shearing and the warmer-than-wool, softer-than-cashmere goods made from their fleece last season are priced to go.
June Miller-Gouge’s in-home alpaca farm store on Browns Mill Road is preparing for its seasonal closing to make way for the new handcrafted stock that will come in with the spring shearing of the farm’s herd of 10 Huacaya and Suri alpacas.
Now in its second year of business in the big four-square Sears & Roebuck home Miller-Gouge’s grandfather built in 1926, the shop has “done pretty well,” she said.
“The weather hurt us a little this year. People just weren’t coming out,” she said. “But I have good customers. About a third them are repeat customers and those of the kind of customers you want. ... Most of them hear about it by word of mouth.”
Goods sold at the shop include a variety of handcrafted, co-op manufactured and imported coats, capes, sweaters, hats, scarves, gloves, socks, baby items, yarn and a stock of raw fleece and roving for spinners.
About half of the goods are handcrafted by local artisans or produced by a New England Fiber co-op that spins the alpaca fleece from the little herd. (The other half of the goods found at the store is imported). Miller-Gouge ships the fleece to the farm cooperative, which cleans, cards and spins the fiber, then manufactures the shop’s all-natural products and the yarn that goes out to local knitters.
“Various people knit for me,” she said. “I give them the yarn and I pay them. None of this done by me. My markup is very little. I don’t make a lot of money but I’d rather do that and have people enjoy wearing alpaca.”
Depending on how quickly the weather warms, the alpacas will be sheared in late March or early April and the work that goes into next year’s goods will begin again.
The items produced with alpaca wool from JoNell Farm are made with natural undyed fiber. “There’s no dyeing and you can tell those items because they are all-natural colors,” the same black, gray, mahogany, brown, caramel, fawn, white and off-white hues sported by the herd out back.
With the exception of Precious, a solid black female, all of the alpacas at JoNell are gelded “fiber males.”
“There are a lot of alpaca breeders, but we don’t sell any of ours,“ Miller-Gouge said. “Ours are all just part of the family.”
The animals have their own distinct personalities, she said, and have been a part of the farm much longer than the shop itself. Their companions include two llamas, two pot-bellied pigs, a goat and several dogs.
The farm is located at 2503 Browns Mill Road. The shop is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday though Saturday and other times by appointment. Find out more by visiting JoNell Farm Alpaca Farm Store on Facebook or by calling Miller-Gouge at 218-7768.