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Christmas with Connecticut alpacas

Griswold — When Denise Curran started thinking about animals that could keep a horse from getting lonely, she quickly knocked a few off the list.

Goats were "cuter than anything" but escape artists, she said. Sheep were "notorious for over-grazing." Another horse would be "expensive and a lot of work."

Then Curran and her husband, Bill, spotted an alpaca at the Woodstock Fair.

"What the heck is that thing?" she remembers thinking. "We read up on it and ended up getting a couple. Then we got two others that were show-quality, and started showing them."

Several years and many alpacas later, the couple finally got a horse.

But it's the alpacas — Curran says she's "topped off at 20 now" — that have kept her farm busy the last 17 years.

"They're native to the Andes in South America and well-equipped with fur for cold weather," she said Friday, a day before she opened her Stone Bridge Farm in Griswold for its fifth and last Christmas Open Farm weekend this year.

After a drizzly Saturday morning, a colorful row of alpacas congregated around a barn and snacked on hay, raising their heads curiously at bystanders. Inside the barn, a few visitors perused alpaca fur sweaters, slippers, bags, vests, hats, scarves, socks, stuffed animals and yarn for knitting.

"I think the animals are very pretty," said Yvonne Sinclair of Groton. "They've been very welcoming to us, that's for sure. I love it."

Visiting the farm for the first time, Nicole Cooper, 18, of New London, said the animals were beautiful but admitted she was partial to tigers and snakes. She smiled and plucked a snake finger puppet made from alpaca yarn out of her bag.

Curran shears the animals once in the spring, and a friend helps knit her products. She started the open weekends, held between Thanksgiving and Christmas, several years ago. She noted she's gone to events and markets in the summertime but "nobody wants to think of anything made of wool in the summer. It makes you sweat just looking at it."

Tedi Smith of Salt Lake City, Utah, visited the 8-acre farm Saturday with her husband and mother-in-law. As she fed a few alpacas some hay, Smith recounted her experience at a gas station near Virgin, Utah — population 596 — where "you can buy carrots and feed llamas and donkeys."

"I offered a llama a carrot and he looked at me and spat what he had left in his mouth at me," she said. "They're so sassy. Alpacas are so much sweeter and cute."

Curran noted alpacas, like their larger cousins, the llamas, do spit on occasion.

"But usually only amongst themselves," she added. "And not at humans unless they're bothering them."

The farm is scheduled to open Christmas Eve from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

b.kail@theday.com

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