Children shriek in giddy delight as alpacas nuzzle the fence—a strange feel of Andean charm in the middle of Appalachia. Alpacas are the main attraction here on Apple Hill Farm in North Carolina, about 25 minutes from Boone, but there are also goats, chickens, donkeys, and pigs that accompany them on this 42-acre property. As we arrived at the farm, we were introduced to Mr. Pickles—the pig who can stand on two legs—and given some basic rules of the farm to not chase or harass the animals.
We began to explore the expansive farm. For being in the middle of an alpaca farm, I was strangely fascinated by the lone llama found roaming within the pen.
The way to spot the llama, we’re told, is to look at the animal’s ears; when we find the one with ears that are the shape of furry, brown bananas, it means we’ve found the only llama roaming Apple Hill.
In addition to the llama’s distinctive ears, what’s equally fascinating is learning how a llama puts up a fight. According to Sage, our soft-spoken guide, a llama will stand on it’s hind quarters and kick at the incoming threat.
“The llama helps guard the alpacas,” she says. “They use their hooves like knives.”
As it turns out, the llama was imported to protect the alpacas from toothy visitors in the night. Black bear, coyote, and the rare cougar had been picking off the alpacas, and it wasn’t until the llama arrived that the attacks finally stopped.
Tragedy and heroics aside, however, the main attraction of this alpaca farm is goading the animals close to the fence to stroke their soft brown fur.
For fifty cents, children can buy a bag of seeds to feed the Angora goats—a species known for its lustrous wool that’s used to make mohair sweaters. Unlike many traditional farms raising stock for milk or meat, Apple Hill Farm harvests only the fibers from the coats of alpacas and goats. The fibers are spun into socks and yarn at a mill elsewhere in North Carolina, and sent right back to Apple Hill for sale in the tiny gift shop.
That shop, it turns out, is located up on the second story of a large, redwood barn, and I need to step over a sleeping dog to climb the flight of stairs. Though the farm itself isn’t very large, it’s still a small scale, working farm where tractors ply the gravel roads and dirt gets under your nails. Donkeys bray behind the barn and dogs help herd the goats, and chickens cluck a soft rhythm while sitting atop their eggs.
To the west of the barn, past a country farmhouse bordering a drive that’s lined with well-used trucks, a view of the rolling Appalachians blends with the blue of the sky. Up here at 4,000 feet where the air is crisp and clear, the pace of life is noticeably slower than Asheville or neighboring Boone.
It’s an escape where kids can interact with cuddly, hungry goats, and maybe even score some eggs when passing by the coop. It’s a way to show children that clothing and food comes from someplace besides the store, and learn a bit about the alpacas and their brave, guardian llama.
While the tour itself doesn’t take very long—an hour at most with the gift shop—this alpaca farm on Apple Hill is a cute, hug-filled, furry stop in the North Carolina high country. You might even walk away with some socks—grown right here in Boone.
Discover more things to do in Boone, North Carolina!
– Contributed by Kyle Ellison