The alpacas gather around Melissa for a taste of some ground feed in August.
Improve the lives of children and adults through a connection with the amazing spirit of animals.
That’s the goal of Melissa Snyder in the rolling hills of southeastern Ohio near Norwich, where she has created a home for alpacas. However, her story begins with a horse.
As a child, Melissa had a special horse call Capezio. This horse had a club foot and walked slowly but he was her special horse for thirty-two years. Capezio’s gentleness had children waiting in line at the petting zoo or for a pony ride at the fair. Melissa remembered, “His gift was to help kids. He was here to make kids happy.”
While alpacas can stand very cold weather, the heat is something they try to avoid.
Capezio taught Melissa many lessons in life and developed her zeal for animals that needed that extra touch of loving care. So when she decided to name her farm, she knew that her passion for animals was a gift from Capezio; therefore, she named it Capezio’s Gift Ranch.
After she graduated from Lake Erie College with a degree in Entrepreneurship, she only raised horses. Then one day she purchased a pony that had an alpaca friend, who came as part of the bargain. A local vet told her that the alpaca would be stressed without another alpaca for company. The herd began.
The rare and exotic alpaca has been a treasure of the Andes for over 6,000 years. While they closely resemble the llama, who is a working animal, the friendly, gentle alpaca lives a life of luxury with their task being to eat and make exquisite fiber.
Over a period of a few years, alpacas became the center of Melissa’s life. Soon people were calling her to see if the ranch had room for another alpaca. One evening when she came home, an alpaca was tied to a post by their driveway. It appears that Melissa has a soft spot in her heart for any animal that needs fed. At this point, an alpaca rescue was established.
Alpacas might be Suri or Huacaya breeds, with Huacaya being the one most often needing rescued. The Suri fleece is long, straight and softer and demands a higher market price. These are seldom in need of rescue. The Huacaya have a short, curly fleece, which is also soft and fine.
Vet bills add up, so the size of the herd stops at around twenty. But if they need vet care, Melissa won’t deny them treatment. She has eaten peanut butter sandwiches for a couple of weeks in order to pay the vet. Extraordinary dedication!
Melissa and her partner, Nathan, do their own sheering when the temperature warms up in April and May. Then Melissa and a couple friends are responsible for cleaning, carding, spinning and weaving many items from the natural fiber that they receive.
Alpacas enjoy cold weather…even down to a -22 degrees doesn’t phase them. But heat is a different story so they have shade huts with fans to keep them cool on hot summer days.
Melissa works with the Living Waters Clover Crew 4-H Club, where she shares information on alpacas and has workshops on fiber use. Club members are encouraged to adopt an alpaca for their project so they can show them at the fair.
Capezio’s Gift Ranch covers all alpaca expenses for members of 4-H. This year some of the 4-H members showed them at the Muskingum County Fair and the Ohio State Fair.
While fair judging centers on fleece and conformation, games at the fair provide great fun. Musical Rug, Leaping Llama, and Obstacle Course are favorites. Musical Rug is similar to Musical Chairs with the alpacas having to stop on a rug when the music stops. This year at the State Fair, that contest was won by a Capazeo alpaca…who was blind. The fun never stops!
Alpacas are often adopted by fiber farmers, who want their own soft fleece for weaving.. Good retirement homes are always needed. They can be adopted for a fee.
While they usually eat hay and grain, like us they also enjoy treats. Some of their favorites are fig newtons, bananas, and raisins. Since they have no upper teeth, these soft foods are easy for them to chew.
Melissa dreams about someday having her own alpaca barn and showroom. The barn would provide an isolation spot for new alpacas and provide coolness on a hot summer day. In the showroom, visitors could experience making the yarn and see many beautiful finished products.
Melissa knows every alpaca in the field quite well. She knows their names and birthdates better than most people know this information about their families..Melissa takes great pleasure in talking about her friends, the alpacas.
Melissa Snyder can be reached on Facebook at Capezio’s Gift Ranch, the easiest way to make a connection, or by phone at (740) 583-4030 .