John Ballentine isn't afraid of the work.
During a winter storm that kept the workers from the nearly 200-acre Fox Wire Farm from getting to work, he and his wife pulled 48-hour shifts to keep the farm running.
But sensing a problem in need of a solution, Ballentine has taken about 15 acres of his property and is building homes for his four full time employees as a benefit to working for him and the farm.
Ballentine built the farm,which focuses on alpacas but also has other animals, on the "high ground" of Toano — 100 feet above sea level — in James City County in 2006.
The farm, which has grown from 56 acres when it began in 2006 to nearly 200 acres, has more than its 100-plus alpacas – it also has Nigerian dwarf goats, cows, horses, chickens, miniature pigs and miniature donkeys.
As part of his growth strategy, he opened a store nearby off of Richmond Road that sells alpaca-related products.
"When I was introduced to alpacas, I did a crawl, then a walk and a run approach to it and found out that I really enjoyed working with these animals," Ballentine said, "and determined that if I was going to make any money in it, I needed to be completely, vertically integrated in the business."
That vertical integration means not only raising the animals, but harvesting the fiber, assessing it, and then getting it made into various fashions and selling them. But to get there, Ballentine has to have a smooth operation, and a big part of that, for him, is running a clean farm.
"We clean our fields every single day, rain or shine," Ballentine said. "Every manure and animal dropping is completely picked up and recycled before being reintroduced. The barns are cleaned twice. So when you go out to the farm, you see an environment in which you don't see anything, you don't smell anything, you don't have the flies, we don't have the parasite problem. We have healthy, happy animals roaming around."
Ballentine is also a venture capitalist and has created a number of alpaca investment portfolios, each one tailored to the individual or serial investor who seeks tax relief.
But for those who simply want to enjoy the alpacas, Fox Wire Farm has a few ways of doing so. On Columbus Day weekend — Oct. 7-9 — the farm will host its second Alpaca Fest.
The farm also offers tours twice daily, by appointment only, and this summer, held summer Alpaca Farm Camps for children and teens, giving them a chance to meet the animals on the farm, picnic with alpacas and build bird houses. They also learned about animal husbandry, how the farm operates as a certified organic farm and how farming impacts the environment. During the school year, the farm also hosts field trips.
Earlier in the summer, the farm was part of the Virginia Tourism Corporation's Behind the Scenes in Virginia's Historic Triangle four-day super tour, with international guests sampling the farm among a number of destinations around the Williamsburg region.
It gave Ballentine another chance to show off the farm and introduce people to alpacas. He is passionate about showing the farm to visitors, and then to see that passion translate to others.
"Truthfully, I'm very selfish because it's the only time I actually get to enjoy everything that I've worked hard for for 56 years on the planet," Ballentine said, "because if I couldn't share it ... then I'm on the farm very pigeon-holed, working a specific issue."
FOX WIRE FARM STORE & BOUTIQUE
8105 Richmond Road, Suite 201
Toano, VA 23168
Store hours: Daily 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Contact: 757-218-4520 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
FOX WIRE FARM
300 Turners Neck Road
Toano, VA 23168
Tours by appointment only.
Contact: 757-218-4520 or email@example.com