Alpaca farms looking at agritourism for growth

Managing Editor

PRESTON, Md. (March 28, 2017) — Phil Liske said he’s always viewed the alpaca farm he started with wife Vickie in 2007 as a business and if it didn’t make money, they would do something else.
“I was really serious about that,” Phil said. “I didn’t want to do it as a hobby.”
The farm has stayed viable, he said, but to keep growing, he sees their next step as expanding its agritourism program.
Like most farms that ventured into alpacas, the Liskes started started their Outstanding Dreams Farm raising animals to sell as breeding stock. Soon after, Phil said they saw the potential in having a store on the farm for alpaca products, some made with fleece from their animals.
“We’ve just been amazed,” he said. “The demand and interest in the end product has been more than I ever anticipated.”
Vickie said much of the store’s success is tied to customers seeking local products. The yarn made from the fleece of their own animals sells out often and she’s started attaching photos of the animals to the products in the store that use its fleece.
“They like to buy a hat and say ‘that hat came from this animal,’” she said.
The Liskes hold an annual holiday open house geared toward the farm store and a two-day alpaca festival in September that draws thousands of people to the farm.
Now he said their putting more of a focus on bring groups to the farm for tours as its own revenue stream while increasing traffic to the store.
“We’ve been involved in agritourism really since the beginning,” Phil said, mentioning different groups that have already visited, from a couple on Valentine’s Day to school classes. “It’s definitely something within our business that we’re trying to grow.”
At Moore or Less Farm in Bushwood, Md., Jim and Elissa Moore raise alpacas along with a variety of livestock and produce on 65-acres in St. Mary’s County. Jim said they have offered tours of the farm for years bringing school classes and mother’s groups to the farm and the alpacas are the most popular.
“I think they’re the biggest draw for the farm. People want to see the alpacas more than anything,” he said. “They’re really curious and cool animals, especially with children.” 
Jim said they’ve seen growing demand for the alpaca products too and are looking at ways to expand that part of the farm. He added with prices for breeding stock coming down from white hot levels of years ago, branching out into tourism may be more attractive to some farms.
“Everybody has to have their own niche. That’s the biggest thing,” Jim said.
The progression parallels that of many produce farms that shifted more focus toward retail on-farm sales and then incorporated agritourism events to make the visit more of an experience than an errand.
It’s something Phil, as president of the Maryland Alpaca Breeders Association, said he’s been encouraging other members and client who buy his animals to consider.
A handful of association members already list tours as an option on their respective farms, according to the MABA website.
In his area on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, Phil said he wants to team up with other farms entering or expanding their tourism programs to form a farm trail were people and groups can visit several farms in a day, similar to what on-farm wineries and creameries have done.