By Randy Johnston

Special To The Osceola Edition

TUSTIN — Are you ready to fall in love? It will take only a glance at the long lashes, the dark, expressive eyes and silken tresses. This señorita will steal your heart before you know it.

She is a vision in white — white fur that is. Soft, fluffy, so delightful to touch. And as sweet and gentle as she is lovely.

Her name is Chantal. She is 4 weeks old and just one of the alpacas living at Trickle Creek Alpaca Ranch in Tustin owned by Terry and Nancy McCreery.

Originally from Taylor, the McCreerys moved north several years ago. Terry, now retired, worked for Rexair Inc. in Cadillac. Nancy works at Nartron Corp. in Reed City.

How did the McCreerys become interested in these intriguing animals and bring them to live in our midst?

“It all began,” Nancy recalls, “when Terry and I went to a family event in Cadillac that had an animal exhibit. There were some alpacas that were very cute and fluffy and the young ones were so friendly.

“We were interested right away, and decided to learn more about them and check into owning alpacas as a business and hobby. It didn’t take long, and we were hooked on the idea.”

Alpacas originate in South America, and come primarily from Peru, Chile or Bolivia. They are about the size of a deer, but with a long, graceful neck.

A male can weigh up to 200 pounds, a female up to 150 pounds. They fare well in Michigan’s winter weather, just as their South American cousins thrive in harsh climates like the Andes Mountains.

“I thought we’d buy just one to begin with,” said Terry, “for our grandson.”

The plan was short-lived. They quickly leaned that alpacas are herd animals and need to be with others of their kind. After more research and visits to ranches in Michigan, Trickle Creek Alpaca Ranch was founded in 2006 and began with a male and two females.

It didn’t stop there; they bought a few more, and babies were born. Later this summer, when the other pregnant females give birth, baby Chantal will have three playmates and the Trickle Creek herd will number 19, in just five short years.

There are also two llamas on the ranch. Llamas, while members of the same family as the alpaca, are larger animals. An adult male can weigh up to 400 pounds. These giants are kept as guard llamas, to intimidate coyotes and other predators.

“They don’t attack,” said Terry, “but they stand their ground. They don’t back off — they paw the ground and if they’re really agitated, they spit.

So far, we’ve haven’t lost any animals to predators.

“Over the years some of my favorite moments are when the babies walk up to me for first time and we start to get to know each other. It makes all the hard work worthwhile. There isn’t another animal — and that includes horses and dogs — that I would want to raise, other than alpacas.”

“I love sitting on the porch in the evening just around dusk,” said Nancy, “and watching the babies jump. They do it for fun when they are running around and playing. It’s a special kind of springy leap, called pronking, when they bounce straight up into the air, and all four feet come off the ground at the same time.”

While alpacas are appealing animals to own and to be around with their cute faces and soft fur, they are also a business.

Revenue is generated from two main sources: breeding and selling animals and selling the fur, which is called fiber.

If their owners can bear to part with them, alpacas with good blood lines are priced in the low to high thousands of dollars, with champion sires commanding sums in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. So, with good breeding choices, a herd of alpacas can become a profitable investment.

In addition, the animals are sheared once a year. The fiber, which comes in 22 natural colors, is sold to be spun into yarn for knitting and weaving.

There is a gift shop at the ranch featuring skeins of yarn as well as luxuriously soft, warm hats, gloves, socks, and scarves. Take a look at the range of products online at www.tcalpacaware.com.

The McCreerys welcome visitors to the ranch and are glad to share their knowledge and love of alpacas with others.

In August, a group from the Cadillac Senior Center will make its third annual outing to the ranch. They will hear an educational presentation about alpacas, have lunch and pose for pictures with one of the herd. There is no charge; the event is a gift from the McCreerys. Other groups that have visited the ranch include Club Cadillac and Curry House Assisted Living.

A tour of Trickle Creek Alpaca Ranch is a fun outing for the whole family and an enjoyable way to learn more about these fascinating animals. Please call ahead to arrange a visit. There is no admission fee.

The ranch is located at 20663 Hibma Road, Tustin. For directions and further information, call the McCreerys at (231) 829-5194.