Golden Touch Alpaca Farm, located in Westport, MA, is owned by Shelley and Chris Riley. The farm is home to 70+ alpacas, 2 deer, 2 cats, and a golden retriever named Sophie. Shelley has been a lover of all things nature since she could walk and talk and has been nurturing animals for most of her life.
It all started in 1984 for Shelley when she began raising, training, and breeding top quality show Golden Retriever dogs. She continued this for 25 years and has had several dogs placed in the Top 10 in the country. She learned many invaluable lessons that would help her through the next chapter of her and Chris's life.
In 1997 they bought an antique farm house, built in 1850, with 18+ acres in Westport, MA which up until the 1970's was run as a full time farm. Desiring to bring the land back to being farmed, they began researching the best fit for their property and their experience and personalities.
Quickly in that search, Shelley discovered Alpacas and Old English Baby Doll Sheep. She was immediately drawn to them knowing they were raised for their amazing fiber, which was harvested each year at no harm to the animals themselves. It was important to both Chris and Shelley to find a livestock that wasn't just raised to enter the food chain. It's not that they are vegetarians themselves, they just wanted to care for livestock they knew would be sustainable without ending up on the dinner table.
Alpacas, primarily raised for their fiber production, seemed to be a perfect fit because of their high quality fiber, their charisma, temperament, and relative ease on the land. To test the water, they purchased their first 3 fiber males in 2000.
Once the animals were on the farm, Shelley began researching outlets for their beautiful fiber they would be producing each year. She quickly discovered that the New England Alpaca Fiber Pool was located one town over and began volunteering there in 2001 to learn all she could about the many characteristics of alpaca fiber and manufacturing it in the United States. The original founder gave Shelley her first pair of alpaca socks for volunteering and things began to all fall into place.
Experiencing the warmth and overall curb appeal of her first pair of alpaca socks made Shelley and Chris realize just how amazing alpaca fiber is and in turn how great the finished products made from it could be. It helped solidify their decision to invest in alpacas for their fiber production, and they began expanding their herd.
After a little over a year of Shelley volunteering at the fiber pool and learning all that she could about alpaca fiber and the U.S. textile industry, the original owner came to Shelley and asked if she would be willing to become a partner in NEAFP. Being committed to the love of the animal and belief in the future of the U.S. alpaca industry, it didn't take much thought to agree that this would be an amazing step in the right direction for her and Chris.
After working with the fiber pool for some time, the original owner experienced the loss of her husband and her own life's course changed sharply. With the thought of NEAFP possibly shutting it's doors due to this loss, Shelley and Chris made the decision to purchase the rest of the company and run it themselves knowing how important it was to continue developing commercial scale processing of U.S. Grown alpaca in the United States. They both felt that in order for the U.S. Alpaca Industry to be viable over the long term, it needed to establish a strong U.S. manufacturing base for the increasing amount of alpaca fiber being produced each year domestically.
Today, in 2013, the New England Alpaca Fiber Pool has grown into one of the largest alpaca processors in the United States and is currently collecting fiber from over 1600 farms scattered across the entire country. It continues to pave the way for commercial scale U.S. processing of alpaca fiber, and helps countless alpaca farms turn their yearly fiber harvests into a profit.
What started as a simple love for nature, has evolved over the last 30 years into a budding natural fiber textile business showcasing alpaca fiber and the resurgence in the U.S. manufacturing base.