She calls them “my boys.” They are the 10 alpacas and 2 llamas waiting at Windy Crow Farm in Connecticut to be taken out for a hike that not only offers them some exercise, but fun for the whole family.
“At first we only offered hikes for family members and friends. Soon others learned by word-of-mouth what we were doing and began calling to see if they could book a hike, and it took off from there,” Barbie Lytwyn said.
“My boys know the trails better than anyone else and they love getting out and eating some of the foliage. And they are very gentle, which is important for the kids. You can take selfies and hug and kiss them, and they return the love,” she added.
The outings, booked in two-hour blocks, are not rides, but true guided hikes as advertised. “Alpacas and llamas do not have bone structures designed for carrying heavy loads or humans, so hikers will be taking them out on a lead line,” Lytwyn said.
As for any special footwear needed, she noted the trail is rather easy to maneuver and no climbing is required, so hiking shoes are optional but always a plus for the one-and-ahalf- mile round trip hike.
“It’s an easy trip through the woods and there are some rocks and roots along the way, but for the most part I’m out there all the time trying to keep it free of any fallen branches,” Lytwyn said.
“The reward at the top of the trail is a panoramic view that offers a glimpse of Peaked Mountain near Monson as well as Stateline Pond and Staffordville Lake, especially when the foliage isn’t hiding them,” she added. Hikes are offered year-round.
“We are entering our busiest time of year as the leaf peeping season gears up. And the trail is also perfect for snowshoeing,” Lytwyn said. Guided hikes, led by Lytwyn, are $50 per family, who are not grouped with other hikers, and $25 for individual hikers 18 and older. Prices may increase slightly during fall foliage and snowshoeing seasons when additional perks are added such as hot cider and donuts.
Windy Crow Farm recently started a new service called Alpaca Grams that has been “putting smiles” on many faces when delivered.
“Cici, who is a rescue, came to live with us last summer, and together we go out and deliver warm and cuddly birthday, get well, Valentine’s Day, and other well wishes of flowers and chocolates for adults or special gift bags for kids,” Lytwyn said.
“Oftentimes, especially if it is a child’s birthday party, I will stay with Cici for a while so the kids can enjoy him, and it’s sometimes hard to tell if the kids or the adults are having more fun,” she added.
Cici is also fast becoming “the face” of Windy Crow Farm and is in demand to make appearances at area events and festivals for “meet and greets.” She has also been the star of the show at libraries, daycare centers and schools for educational purposes, and was even sought after for a guest appearance at a credit union in Chicopee.
Kristen Wrisley of Chicopee has been bringing her two children, Griffen, 13, and Charlotte, 9, for hikes at the farm since the pandemic began.
“My mom saw something on Facebook about the hikes and she told me about it. My daughter is a huge animal lover and we are always looking for new things to do. This was perfect, especially since with COVID it was outdoors in the open air,” Wrisley said.
“It’s something we could all do together and it’s a decent hike, not too strenuous, something for all ages. And there is a great view waiting for you at the top of the hike,” she added.
Wrisley said she highly recommends making time for the experience.
“If you are willing to take a little trek with your family to the farm it will be well worth it. You will get to spend quality time with your kids away from the fast-paced lives we all seem to lead these days. You’ll be away from all of life’s distractions and among the calming animals, and it is just an uplifting, relaxing experience and a chance to renew,” she said.
After visiting the farm several times, Charlotte has her favorite animal.
“He’s an alpaca and his name is Chester. He’s very sweet,” she said.
Her mother says all of the animals are “amazing.” “They all have their own little personalities. One of them has a special spot on the trail where he enjoys getting down on the ground and rolling over in the dirt. It’s really entertaining to see such a big animal doing that right in front of you,” Wrisley said.
The Chicopee woman has also sent a couple of Alpaca Grams since the service was started in February.
“I had Cici come to the house to surprise Charlotte for Valentine’s Day and sent another to a friend who broke an ankle to cheer them up,” she said.
In addition to the alpacas and llamas who make their home at Windy Crow Farm, some 100 animals currently live at the small-town farm, some of them rescues, including Nigerian dwarf goats, English angora rabbits, lion head rabbits, chickens, ducks, roosters, tom turkeys, and one sheep and pot-bellied pig.
“I couldn’t do all of this if it wasn’t for my husband Joe (Lytwyn). I don’t know which of us is the biggest animal lover, he is so supportive of everything I am doing,” Lytwyn said.
The Lytwyns use the profits from the hikes and Alpaca Grams to support the cost of feeding their animals.
“It costs us $1,200 a month just for hay, and our grain bill just went up again to nearly $300 every two weeks. Everyone needs a break today