Worth the trip: An alpaca paradise just north of Tampa

Just over 20 miles north of Tampa nestled alongside a glistening pond, Golden Spirit Alpaca Ranch in Keystone houses more than 200 friendly, fluffy animals more commonly seen in the mountains of South America.

After spending over an hour letting their long, pale, pink tongues lick up every bit of feeding offered by human hands, co-owner Brenda Crum, alongside Frank Crum, sits down to talk about how and why this whole 75-acre idyllic place came to be. 

Q: What is your background?
A: Frank and I purchased property in Keystone, Florida and soon realized that we would like to use the property for more than its beauty. We found information about Alpaca and researched as much as we thought would be beneficial before we purchased four beautiful females. 

I grew up on a farm, so I was familiar with the commitment of livestock. Additionally, I worked in the medical field as a Peri-operative Nurse and have always had a passion for caring, while Frank has a keen sense for business. At the time we purchased Alpaca, we also owned horses but I don’t believe either of us realized how much we can appreciate caring for animals. 

Q: Why alpaca?
A: Alpaca are livestock animals so you can invest in them for a business. They are bred and shown, but most important they produce exquisite fiber. Each year they are shorn, and the fiber removed from the animal is skirted, sorted, graded, and then is decided what will be the best end product. After processing, there are options for many alpaca products including clothing, novelty items, rugs, saddle pads; basically, anything you can envision. We envisioned owning animals that we could enjoy while also operating a fiber production business meaning these animals are not slaughtered. 

Q: What is your favorite part about working with these unique animals?
A: I’m not certain I can name a favorite part. I stay amazed at the personalities of each animal. Their uniqueness leaves room for opportunities to discover new pleasures every day. Alpaca are curious so they seem friendly when actually, they don’t want to be handled. They are halter trained at a young age and can be handled for treatments or showing, but overall, they want to roam and graze and do what alpaca do well -- look beautiful!

Q: Do you remember the first time you saw an Alpaca face to face?
A: My first ‘face to face’ exposure was during our research while visiting other alpaca farms to ask questions. We had decided before we met them in person that we wanted to investigate alpaca, so I was familiar with the ‘cuteness.’
My best first exposure came after purchasing our first four and having them delivered to the Ranch at 2 a.m. by the transporter. Fortunately, transporters are a wealth of information because we needed that to get them to the new pasture.

Q: Are there any specific stories or memories that came from your job? 
A:  Overall, running a Ranch is very hard work that comes with many pleasant experiences. After 14 years in the business, our stories are abundant. I recall a baby that was born to a mama (not born on our Ranch) that had a standoffish personality, however, after working with the baby, the mama became friendly -- probably because she learned she could trust us.

There also was an evening when my husband and I were leaving the property and as we passed the pasture, we saw a newly born little one (alpaca baby). Since they are often born before noon, this left some challenges for us. Birthing should be easy, but the first 8-12 hours are important to watch the mama and baby, so of course, we spent that night without dinner.
Q: Why should more people come out to see these cute animals?
A: We’re frequently asked questions about the alpaca and there isn’t any way to explain or express their behaviors and qualities in words. When you look at the alpaca through the fence they are ‘cute.’ And they are cute! But when you visit the Ranch and Retail store on a beautiful property, learn their history, the USA livestock history, fiber qualities, as well as get close and personal it makes the Alpaca Experience unforgettable.

For information and to schedule a tour, follow this link to the Golden Spirit Alpaca Ranch website. 
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Read more articles by Lauren Wong.

Lauren Wong is a graduate of the University of Tampa with a degree in journalism who is freelancing while she looks for a full-time job. Originally from the Chicago area, she enjoys travel and aspires to be a travel photojournalist. During the summer of 2019, she worked for Premier Travel Media in Chicago and as a correspondent for Input Fort Wayne, another Issue Media group online magazine based in Indiana. She loves spending time outdoors camping, kayaking, and taking pictures.