Eaton farm’s alpaca photo booth thrills visitors at National Western
To learn more about Sunrise Silhouettes or the summer camps it offers, go to www.openherd.com/farms/1714/sunrise-silhouettes.
With their cat-like personalities, sometimes it can be hard to win over an alpaca’s heart.
But Eaton’s Laura Ruppel said when it happens, there’s a connection like no other.
Ruppel runs Sunrise Silhouettes Farm, 14497 Weld County Road 76 in Eaton, Colo., with her family.
She wanted to share that connection with others at the National Western Stock Show in Denver, so she started the alpaca photo booth last year. People loved it.
“Last year we had such a line of people wanting to (take pictures) that it congested the area we were in,” Ruppel said with a laugh. This year, the show managers moved them to a different area to avoid the clutter.
That’s fine by Ruppel, who said she’s just in it to introduce people to the animals.
“We used to do a lot more of the alpaca shows but that just wasn’t satisfying for me,” she said. “It wasn’t getting the word out and letting people experience these animals like I wanted.”
Ruppel said she came up with the idea after attending the stock show for the first time three years ago.
“We saw a lot of people wanting to get up close to the animals to get pictures,” she said, “but when they’re in the pen, they’re a little more standoffish. They’re not like a dog.”
She said when they would walk alpacas from one place to another, they’d also get bombarded with photo requests.
“You usually get a cluster of people wanting to interact with the animals,” she said.
But trying to take a picture in a big crowd like that can sometimes freak out the alpacas, and often the experience with them wasn’t as good as it could have been. So they decided to open the booth to give some one-on-one time with the animals to anyone who wanted to meet them.
“When a person is able to have that one-on-one moment, and really get the vibe, I truly feel that the animals will give off a vibe that people benefit from,” she said. “You get a sense of relief when the animal steps toward you. When you have people reaching in (the pen) from all directions, it’s not the same.”
Ruppel also runs camps throughout the spring and summer to introduce people to alpacas.
Each year the booth is themed. Last year, it was tropical theme; this year, it was the Paca Love Booth. The photo booth ran over the first weekend of the show this year, but Ruppel said they’ll be back next year with a winter wonderland theme.
Part of the booth is educating the public about the relatively new animal on the market.
“Alpacas are fairly new. They’ve really only been in the U.S. since the early 1980s,” she said. “A lot of people don’t know about them and haven’t experienced them.”
That’s why the education part of the booth is important.
“For the Stock Show, we put up a chalkboard with information and facts about the animals,” she said. “The education is fun because you’ll say they’re pregnant for 11 and a half months and people will say, ‘What?!’”
They also let the people taking pictures hold onto the alpacas’ leads, and they let them make friends with the animal.
“We give them a minute or two to interact with the animal outside of the pen,” she said. “It really shows them how soft they are and how gentle of an animal they are.”
She said she loves when the alpacas react in a cute way for pictures.
“With any animal, you don’t know what their reaction is going to be in a picture,” she said.
They tell parents to have their cameras ready and then Ruppel and her family work with the animals to get them to do something fun.
“It never fails that within a minute or two, there’s a breathtaking moment where the alpaca will lean down and give the kid a kiss and the kid just has the biggest smile,” Ruppel said.
Her personal favorite is when they lick a grown man, making him giggle like a little girl.
“All of a sudden, the smile breaks out and the girly giggle,” she said. “That enjoyment lasts the whole year — seeing people have so much fun and excitement with the animals.” ❖