MOUNT AIRY – Five years ago, the Padgett family didn’t even have a dog on their quarter-acre lot in Severna Park. Now, on a farm in Mount Airy, they have two dogs, as well as cats, angora rabbits — and around 60 alpacas.
People like the Padgetts, who decide to go into farming as a second job or as a change from their previous careers, have made small farms are the fastest- growing segment of agriculture in Maryland, officials said.
Those people are “looking for a different-paced lifestyle from the high- tech, high-push, 70 hours a week in the cubicle, and they want to get out and smell green and scoop poop,” said Jo Padgett, who traveled frequently as a management consultant in her previous life.
Almost four years ago, the Padgetts decided to find a way of life that would allow them to spend more time as a family with their daughter Bari, then 11.
With no farming background at all, they decided to try their hand at raising alpacas, smaller relatives of llamas whose fleece is spun like wool. They wanted animals that were easy to care for, that did not smell and that they would not have to kill, said Bari, now 15.
From the A Paca Fun Farm in Mount Airy, the family sells alpaca fiber and products made from the fiber. Although they have sold a few animals, they only started marketing their alpacas for sale three months ago because they needed a large enough herd for breeding stock, Neil Padgett said.
They do almost all the work themselves. Neil Padgett kept his job as a doctor in Glen Burnie four days a week, but Jo Padgett is on the farm full time. Bari, who has been home-schooled since kindergarten, does much of the farm work.
They bought their first six alpacas before they sold their house and found a farm to buy, Jo Padgett said. Boarding the alpacas at another farm for those six months allowed the Padgetts to become comfortable with animals before they were responsible for their full-time care, she said.
The family visited farms, went to shows, and attended seminars on everything from veterinary care to the fiber side of the business, she said.
Neil Padgett said his experience as a doctor made learning about the animals themselves easier than learning the business. The family went to neonatal classes to learn how to deal with breeding, and a neighbor farmer with cows and sheep helped teach them how to deliver the crias — baby alpacas.
Four years into their second lifestyle, the Padgetts are still learning more about alpacas and farming.
“It’s an ongoing process,” Neil Padgett said.