By Marta Zarrella
Nestled on 10 acres in the Ramona foothills, accessed via Pappas Road in San Diego Country Estates, Joe and Susan Attili live the sweet life with their two Great Pyrenees dogs and a herd of 37 Alpacas over which the dogs — and the Attilis keep a watchful eye. They call their ranch and their business La Dolce Vita Alpacas.
La dolce vita is Italian for “the sweet life” or “the good life.”
Eight years ago Joe, an electrical engineer, and Susan, an occupational therapist, lived in University City. Susan worked at Sharpe Healthcare. Now she is ranch manager at La Dolce Vita Alpacas. Joe helps her when he isn’t working “down the hill” at his engineering job.
She was a city girl before making the move to Ramona. He grew up on a cattle farm in upstate New York. One thing led to another and they fell in love with alpacas — eight of them.
In the early days, Susan and Joe boarded the alpacas and began the learning process. It would be three years before they found the perfect ranch in Ramona. During those years, they took seminars, read books and learned from mentors, all while searching for property on which to live their dream.
Eight years later, they have their “work in progress.” On their fully fenced property on Bareta Star Ranch Road, three layers of protection for their four-legged friends — white ranch fencing backed by chain link with hot wire along the bottom — keep predators from digging their way in.
The 37 alpacas who share the property are all ages, sizes and colors. Susan and Joe own 22 of the herd; the rest are boarded
on the property.
About 30 friends and fans joined them for their recent annual Shearing Day festivities.
“We have fun,” said Susan. “We have all of our and our boarders’ alpacas sheared. People come from all over with their animals also. We have an isolation pen where alpacas who don’t normally live here are held separately from our herd.”
It is an all-day affair. Volunteer helpers are invited to catch and hold the alpacas, do any number of chores around the ranch or watch and learn. There is food and fellowship as well. “It is wonderful fun for all of us, especially for people from the city,” said Joe.
La Dolce Vita Alpacas, a full-service ranch, sells, boards and breeds alpacas. Susan and Joe enjoy sharing the knowledge they’ve gained through years of study and hands-on experience. “We had mentors along the way, and we love to mentor others.”
Their website www.ldvalpacas.com is full of information as well.
They’ve learned from experience that orchard grass fed alpacas produce beautiful, thick award-winning coats, and a Dremel tool does a good job shaping teeth. Susan has techniques for trimming feet, too. They have many other tips they share.
They pride themselves in the quality of their animals and the amenities on their ranch. They have a number of award-winning stud quality males called herdshires. They are most proud of an alpaca stud named Palladin of Stone Mist. He is tall, handsome and gentle.
Palladin imparts his kind, friendly personality on his offspring, they said. They also have a number of award-winning breeding females, as well as “pet quality” animals that produce fleece like the breeding quality stock.
Susan and Joe travel to shows sanctioned by the Alpaca Owners and Breeders Association. The annual shows are held in Colorado, Arizona and California for the Southwest Region. They participate in the competition to know that their breeding program remains top-notch.
At alpaca shows, the fleece quality is 60 percent of the score, and conformation and other judged attributes account for the other 40 percent. One of the items judged as part of fleece quality is the crimp, or amount of waviness of the fur. The more well-crimped, the better quality yarn, they said.
Crimping helps keep the yarn tight once it is spun. For that reason, alpacas are not groomed like other four-legged animals, Grooming can ruin the crimp in the fleece.
La Dolce Vita Alpacas will host Alpaca Farm Days on Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 28 and 29. They welcome visitors of all ages to meet the alpacas and learn about the alpaca lifestyle. Even for those not interested in raising alpacas, National Alpaca Farm Days is a way to spend the day in the fresh air with the entire family, it’s fun and it’s free.
Because of the season in Ramona, La Dolce Vita’s version of Alpaca Farm Days will be an Alpaca Water Park — wet, wild and woolly.
Along with alpacas, water and wool, La Dolce Vita Alpacas will participate in the San Diego Yarn Crawl from Sept. 26 through Sept. 29. If you enjoy knitting or crafting with wool of any kind, Yarn Crawl will be held in San Diego for the first time this year. It involves lots of yarn at many locations with informational, educational and hands-on fun events.
“We want people to know we are here,” they said. “Now is a good time to get into alpacas, if anyone is interested....We love to find good homes for our alpacas. We love to help new people learn how to care for them.”
To make an appointment to visit La Dolce Vita Alpacas, see their website.