To many motorists roaring past on Rt. 9, the alpacas in the front yard of the Butterfly Hill Farm Store are a curiosity, especially when decked out in their colorful Christmas wear. Over the past six years, those camelids have helped build a family business that attracts patrons from all around the region.
Inside the store, owners Gerry and Catie Dutcher sell mill-spun yarn and clothing like hats, scarves and gloves.
They opened the shop in 2012, nearly a decade after Gerry retired from the U.S. Air Force as a lieutenant colonel, moved his family to Loudoun County and purchased a herd of more than 40 alpacas.
Gerry said their drive to raise the animals stemmed from Catie’s love of fashion and making clothes. They chose alpacas because their fleece has long been recognized as a “fashion fiber.” “[Catie] is quite a seamstress—she loves to create,” Gerry said.
When asked what prompted them to open Butterfly Hill, named for the swarms of butterflies on the property, Catie pointed to one motivation—a need to sell excess alpaca fleece.
At first, when the couple sold their fleece during the Loudoun County Farm Tour and at the Shenandoah Valley Fiber Festival, Catie said they were still left with loads of the fluffy stuff.
“We were sort of not maximizing our ‘what to do with the fleece,’” she said. “It wasn’t draining down the volume of fiber that we had.”
Now, they sell products made from about 200 pounds of fleece that they shave off of their alpacas each year.
While Catie makes some of those products by hand, much of it is made up north. After shaving the alpacas in the spring, the couple sends some of the fleece to a mill in Maryland to be spun into yarn and the rest to the New England Alpaca Fiber Pool to be made into clothing, 100 pounds at a time.
What makes the fleece so popular is its quality compared to sheep wool. It’s hypoallergenic. It contains no lanolin to make it greasy. It doesn’t require any harsh chemicals to clean. It comes naturally in different colors. It’s a lighter weight and it’s made for warmth. “It’s very insulating,” Catie said. “[It’s] half the weight and twice as warm.”
The Dutchers also sell antiques, vintage items and hand-made crafts from local artisans at their shop. “Everything we sell is fairly local,” Catie said.
The couple invites visitors to stop in Wednesday-Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. to peruse the shop and feed the alpacas, which each cost about $300 annually to maintain. Visitors will have to hurry, though, since Butterfly Hill closes for the winter on Dec. 30, although they’ll still accommodate some visitors by appointment until they reopen in late March or early April.
Looking past the 2019 season, the Dutchers hope to build a farmhouse on the Butterfly Hill property so the alpacas can stay there permanently, rather than being hauled back and forth on the weekends from their home in Waterford to the store.
The couple is also looking at possibly moving locations to build a mill so they can spin their own yarn and manufacture more clothing. “That’s a big-bucks proposition,” Catie said.
For now, they’re enjoying the final days of their sixth year by welcoming new visitors who want to know more about the roadside alpacas.
“We have had a fabulous year,” Catie said. “This year has just been amazing—we’re doing really well.”
Learn more at facebook.com/ButterflyHillFarmStore.