• James Parry

Innovative Vaudreuil-Dorion alpaca farm growing by leaps and bounds

PHOTO BY JAMES PARRY

Beaming with pride, Ghislain Michaud (left) and Mélanie Bathalon, owners of Alpagas de la Petite Còte on route Harwood in Vaudreuil-Dorion, take a moment with one of the cria from their herd of alpaca.

Five years ago, while working for large Fortune 500 companies, a young Vaudreuil-Dorion couple was looking for a passionate project with which to become involved that was - in their own words - “not driven solely by today’s market goal.” And so, after a lot of research, Mélanie Bathalon and Ghislain Michaud headed out to the Prairies, returning with 16 alpacas to begin what has become one of the most respected operations of its kind in the Province of Quebec both for the quality of its fibre and the excellence of its breeding program.

It is called Alpagas de la Petite Côte, it’s located on Route Harwood just east of Highway 40 and, by the end of this summer, it will be home to no less than 50 of the adorable looking ruminants prized for their soft Lanolin-free fibre that is shorn in May to be shipped to a specialized mill in Bromont, Quebec, for processing to be then used by artisans and weavers in the Vaudreuil- Soulanges region. Explained Bathalon in an exclusive interview with Your Local Journal this week, “When doing our initial research, we learned that alpacas are relatively low maintenance, have robust health, and have no problem with Canadian winters which was a big plus for us to choose them for a new chapter in our lives.

“Also that they eat hay and grass to be supplemented with pellets calibrated for their minerals, vitamins, and proteins requirements. And that was before they even laid eyes on us and swept us off our feet!” Added Bathalon, originally from the countryside near Drummondville and a geologist by profession who, for the past two years has been working as a consultant in site remediation and mining exploration primarily in the Arctic, “We also grow buckwheat and barley fodder for them which has a much lighter environmental footprint than their pellets.” Said Michaud, who grew up in Vaudreuil-Dorion and transports new automobiles as a full-time career, “Once our decision was made, we were extremely fortunate to find this site so close to home. The barn, which we have cleaned up and restored to meet the exacting standards required for our breeding program, used to house cattle and was unoccupied for almost 15 years.

“We installed fences and gates and the barn doesn’t need heating during the winter. Just heated water buckets, hay or rubber mats on the ground, and the alpacas have access outdoors night and day no matter how cold it gets.” Individual pastures are separated, however, for males and females and the 6-feet high fences have dual purposes. Not only to keep the alpacas which can live for 20 years in, but also to keep out coyotes and deer that could possibly transmit meningitis worms to the herd even though it is vaccinated and de-wormed on an ongoing basis. Incredibly, each alpaca in the herd has its own individual name and, apart from the very young, each responds when called. Names such as Boomboom, Sweetie Pie, Czarina, Beluga, and Sigmund.

Moreover, there are officially 22 colours for alpacas ranging from white, beige, fawn, browns, black, and greys or combinations thereof. And, seemingly strange but true, females - wherever they are in Canada or around the world - only give birth around noon when the sun is at its highest.

Said Bathalon, “Each alpaca, male and female, produces between six to 12 pounds of fibre annually and we shear them around mid-May so that it is more comfortable for females to deliver their babies - known as cria - and to ensure that they will all have time to grow a thick and long fibre for the winter.” A member of the provincial Alpaca Quebec Association, Alpagas de la Petite Côte has won countless ribbons and trophies at fiercely competitive Alpaca Shows that are now displayed in the barn with justifiable pride. Interested in a visit to learn more about alpacas and this truly unique farm in our region?

For only $5 per person, families and groups are welcome to reserve a time spot in advance that is convenient to the owners for a tour that includes mandatory safety and behaviour tips, walking through the pasture with the herd, and feeding them. Volunteers are also welcome to walk the crias in the winter when Bathalon and Michaud halter-train them for shows, as well as cleaning the pastures of alpaca droppings in the summer. For more info or for an appointment, go to info@alpacaspetitecote.com or check out their website at www.alpagaspetitecote.com.

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