Tucked into the mountains above Santa Clarita sits a ranch dedicated to caring for small and fluffy alpacas.
For 15 years Cecilia Secka, has welcomed dozens of male and female alpacas into her home at the Sweet Water Alpaca Ranch in Agua Dulce, Calif.
“They’re just very peaceful and friendly animals,” Secka said. “They’re a little bit shy but they’re just beautiful animals, very easy to take care of.”
After retiring from her corporate job, Secka decided to devote all of her time to her ranch. In 2002, after seeing an ad on television, she decided to add alpacas to the land.
“I always liked working with animals and I had horses here, and still have horses here, so I wanted to do a little more with animals,” Secka said. “I started researching online and started to visit other alpaca ranches. Three months later I bought my first two pregnant females so it didn’t take too long.”
As an alpaca ranch owner, Secka invites the public to the Sweet Water Alpaca Ranch during the weekends, breeds and sells alpacas, processes the animals’ fiber (also known as fleece) and knits and crochets products to sell.
“I process the fiber or send it off to a mill and they make yarn out of it,” she said. “I also sell the raw fiber to some local spinners and handcrafters and sell the yarn when I get that.”
Another major part of Secka’s ranch is National Alpaca Farm Days each September where she invites visitors to spend time on the ranch for an extended period of time. This year the event will be held Sept. 23 and Sept. 24.
“It is a big deal, I’ve done it for a long time,” Secka said. “I usually have a couple hundred people come… I have spinning and weaving demonstrations going on and then I sell products, they have free range on the ranch and we love to just walk around.”
The main goal of the event is to educate the public about the animals and share the joys of owning an alpaca ranch in Southern California.
Native to the Andes Mountains in South America, alpacas are used to spending time in cold climates located at more than 10,000 feet above sea level.
“Alpacas were primarily bred for the fibers by the Incas in South America,” Secka said. “Their fiber is warmer than wool, but it’s lighter in weight and it’s hypoallergenic so it doesn’t itch.”
Native to the camelid family of animals, like llamas and camels, alpacas are herbivores with slender necks and long legs; however, alpacas are not known to spit like their larger llama counterparts.
“They can spit, but it’s generally more between each other,” Secka said. “They’re not really spitters.”
Because Secka’s alpacas are living in a warmer climate, she employs the help of local residents and volunteers to help her sheer the animals, collect their fiber and complete other tasks like vaccinations.
“I always shear them in May before the heat sets in and by that time they have about three or four inches of fiber or fleece,” she said. “It’s a lot of work but a lot of fun; it’s kind of like a festival.”
She also cares for her animals throughout the year by ensuring they have hay and water and stay cool during the summer.
“They can actually stress out and die from the heat so in the summer you have to be careful with them,” Secka said. “In the winter I don’t worry about them.”
Secka plans to continue operating her alpaca ranch for at least two or three more years.
“I’m not getting any younger but I’m still very active so as long as I can do it,” she said.
Every weekend from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Secka opens up her ranch to visitors. For $10, they can learn more about the ranch’s alpacas, go into their pens and take up-close photographs of the animals.
“It’s funny, I would say 90 percent of the people are Chinese,” Secka said.
This is because alpacas are a symbol for free speech and anti-censorship among people in China.
“There’s kind of a protest movement. Alpacas are featured in a little movie that’s basically an anti-communist government, internet censorship,” Secka said.
The alpaca symbol first appeared on the internet in 2009 as a representation for the mythical creature called the “Grass Mud Horse,” which translates to “F*** you mother” in English, according to a June report from The Washington Post.
“Because they [alpacas] appeared in that little video they’ve become that little symbol,” Secka said. “It’s actually very naughty, they have code words for everything and they’re usually very dirty code words.”
The same is true for National Alpaca Farm Days where Secka said nearly 90 percent of the visitors are also Chinese. She even had one couple fly from China to Los Angeles specifically to visit the Sweet Water Alpaca Ranch.
However, Secka noted that people from all backgrounds and all areas of the world have come to see her ranch and animals during the weekend-long event.
“There are a lot of students from USC and UCLA and families,” she said. “One year three years ago, I don’t know what happened but I had about 1,500 people come. It was totally insane and totally unexpected.”
But, most of the time average attendance is around 200 visitors.
On Twitter as @_ChristinaCox_