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Thursday, June 20, 2024

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Down on the farm in Cape May

 

By Maureen Cawley

Some of us “Yankees” assume that there’s a corral around every corner in Texas, unaware that places like Austin and Houston are as urban as New York and Philadelphia. That’s why the Funke family of Austin took a morning out of their annual Cape May vacation to enjoy the local countryside.
“We don’t have many farms in Austin,” Judy Funke said, and her granddaughter Anya loves animals, especially Mickey Mouse—not the cartoon, but the friendly brown horse she met at Sea Horse Farm during a Family Farm Day tour on July 11.
The tour began at the 10-acre horse farm on Taylor Avenue in Cape May and ended just “around the bend” at Bay Springs Farm on New England Road, where visitors got an up-close look at the farm’s resident alpacas. Just miles from the beach and tourist destinations, it offered an unexpected look at Cape May County country.
The guide at Sea Horse Farm was Ginna Riker, who introduced the farm’s boarders and explained how raising them is a labor of love. There are troughs to scrub, feed baskets to fill, bills to pay and stalls to clean, but once the seemingly endless chores are finished, there are great rewards.
“Horses are a lot of work, but they are a lot of joy,” she said, and all year long she shares that joy with others through year-round riding lessons and a summer riding camp, where kids of all ages can learn some of the basics.
During the tour, visitors watched a young camper lead a horse to a western-style riding course and ride him bareback. Bareback is great exercise, Riker explained. “You find out you had muscles you never knew you had,” she said. For more information, call 609-884-5354.
You can’t ride an alpaca, but a visit with Barbara & Warren Nuessle of Bay Springs Farm proved there is much work and joy in raising these camel cousins, known as camelids, as well.
“Each of them has a different personality,” Warren said.
The couple began raising alpacas nine years ago on their 50-acre property purchased from a local lima bean farmer. They started with two pregnant females and two gilded male companions, and after an 11-month gestation period and no formal training, Warren delivered his first cria, an alpaca baby, and “a great Scrabble word,” he said.
Warren said the initial delivery was a terrifying. “I got it done, but it was scary,” he admitted. Since then, however, he’s played midwife to nearly two dozen alpaca mamas, and the couple spends the better part of every day caring for them.
“It’s 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” he said.
The animals live about 20-25 years and weigh about 160 pounds when full grown. The Nuessle’s breed and sell the animals, and 26 currently live on site. They are sheared once a year and produce a soft, downy fleece that is non-allergenic and perfect for all types of luxury garments.
Barbara, an avid knitter, uses some of their flock’s fleece to spin and make garments. She gave a demonstration of how it is done on her front porch. She also sells raw material, yarn and finished pieces in her alpaca store. It is open on Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.
“We used to be open more, but we couldn’t get any work done,” Warren said, and after the family “working” farm tours, his guests really understood what he means. For more information, call 609-884-0563 or visit Bayspringsalpacas.com
Family farm tours are scheduled for July 25, and Aug. 8 and 22. The cost is $10 for adults and $7 for children. Preregistration is required. For more information on this and other fun Nature Center activities, call 609-898-8848.

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