The reason millennials find alpacas so relatable

Olivia Johnston has been something of an alpaca aficionado for a while.

“I love alpacas,” she said. “They’re interesting animals. I’ve always liked them since I was a kid. I’ve always wanted them.”

It’s why her elder sister, Natalie Johnston, 24, booked them a walk with a pair of alpacas at SAMY’s Alpaca Farm in Strathroy, Ont., a 40-minute drive from where the two women live in Petrolia, Ont.

“I’m big on experiential activities and Olivia just turned 19 last month and this is my birthday present to her,” Natalie said.

The two sisters are among a growing number of young people who are finding an affinity with these strange-looking creatures by simply taking them on a walk down a gravel road among the farms and windmills that dot Ontario’s heartland.

“I think our generation is moving from material things more to experiences,” Natalie said. “I think that you’re creating more meaningful moments and I think that’s where the trend is coming from in my opinion.”

Alpacas are a species of domesticated camelids from South America. They look exotic, almost absurd, with their long necks, impossibly long eyelashes and glaring underbite.

They click and hum to communicate and wear a wooly coat of fur that feels like a springy cloud against your fingers. Above all though, the animals have a personality that is curious, calm and actively seeks out the companionship of others, but in a peculiar way.

“If you’re trying to be fake with an alpaca they won’t do anything for you,” said Anna Houle, who grew up on SAMY’s Alpaca Farm. “They will ignore you. They won’t want to be with you.”

Houle thinks it’s why alpacas appeal so much to millennials, who make up one in three visitors to her parents’ farm. Turns out alpacas are like millennials in one very relatable way — they’re really into authenticity.

The reason millennials find alpacas so relatable

“I can’t explain how an alpaca knows if you’re being authentic or not, but somehow they just do.”

“If you’re real,” Houle said. “These alpacas will do anything for you. They’ll follow you, rub up against you and generally want to be with you.”

While millennials might be the most numerous visitor, they are by no means the only visitors. The animals seem to appeal to everyone, young and old, every culture, every religion.

“We have people coming out in families,” Houle said. “We’ll have couples come out and do this as a date. We had a marriage proposal. We put a little sign around Rusty’s neck with a sign that said ‘will you marry Manny‘ for the woman.”

It doesn’t end at stunt marriage proposals either as people seem to think of the animals as therapy.

“I know there’s value in this,” Houle said. “I’ve seen that with myself and my friends.”

Alpacas as therapy

Growing up, Houle says she suffered from depression and anxiety. She often found comfort just by sitting in the pasture, surrounded by her family’s herd of alpacas.

“There’s this relaxation that comes with just being with an alpaca,” she said. “Being able to come out and sit with the alpacas, that was part of my therapy. My best friend growing up, she is autistic, she describes the same feeling.”

It’s why social workers regularly book walks as part of their clients’ therapy.

“More than one social worker has reached out to us,” said Nick Ince, who along with his wife Steph, own Sylvan Alpacas near Parkhill, Ont. The couple originally bought their herd for the wool.

“We always knew about the socks and stuff you could produce with alpaca fibre,” said Nick Ince. “The tourism part was completely unexpected. People just have a love for these animals.”

It’s why Sylvan Alpacas and SAMY’s Alpaca Farm keep their rates cheap. For $20, people can go on a guided walk with an alpaca for about an hour. The Inces are even thinking of getting into weddings and photographs.

“It’s a very popular thing,” said Nick Ince. “We definitely didn’t see this coming. We could easily book three or four sessions a day, seven days a week.”

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