At Alpacas at West Ranch, hundreds of long-necked, fuzzy creatures frolic about and doze under shady trees on a sweltering summer day in the Santa Ynez Valley. Alpacas are often described as just another agribusiness bubble, like emus, llamas, Shetland ponies and tulips before them. But at this Los Olivos ranch, the charm and the profits are still there.
Alpacas at West Ranch, owned and managed by business partners Hayley Jessup and Joan Speirs, sits next to Firestone Vineyard. Behind large picket fences, the cartoonish animals wander around, munching on food, dozing in the sun and occasionally neck-wrestling each other.
The ranch has 134 alpacas — one gangly-legged baby, or cria, born the morning a Business Times reporter visited — and six llamas, which act like guard dogs and babysitters for their smaller cousins.