When Ralph and Constance Stoklosa bought their Galloway Township property in 1999, they weren’t sure how they’d use its 10 acres, split between fields and woods.

A few years later they saw a commercial on television for alpacas.

“I asked my wife, what the heck is an alpaca? I thought I knew all of the animals, but I’d never heard of an alpaca,” Ralph Stoklosa said.

Now he and their Silver Fox Farm are all about alpacas, a domesticated relative of the camel bred in the Andes Mountains of South America for their fleece.

The Stoklosas started by visiting alpaca farms, taking seminars, and attending shows and auctions, he said, and then purchased two baby alpacas.

“Molly was the first and she’s also my favorite,” he said. “I spoil her and treat her like my pet. She comes out and greets everyone, and at Christmastime we put antlers on her and people take photos with her.”

A barn and a few more alpacas and the Stoklosas were breeding and selling the animals, as well as having the copious fiber they produce turned into yarns for sale.

Alpaca fleece has many inherent advantages. It is warmer than wool, soft and not itchy, and hypoallergenic. It is even naturally flame resistant.

Many visitors are drawn to Silver Fox Farm by the exotic animals, smaller and cuter than a llama. To show them the fruits of their fabulous fleece, the Stoklosas started putting some products in part of the storeroom. That grew into a little store.

Then they opened a store in Stainton’s Gallery of Shops in Ocean City.

Ralph Stoklosa said nearly everything at the store is handmade in Peru, where alpacas have been domesticated for thousands of years.

There are hats, gloves, scarves, slippers, but few larger garments because they’d be too expensive, he said. Just some hooded sweaters, and even those “normally sell in the $200 to $300 range, and I’ll sell them for maybe $120.”

More accessible are clever wine bags lined with alpaca fleece, which can keep wine cool for three hours, he said, and teddy bears made from ultrasoft baby alpaca fiber. A 12-inch teddy goes for $40.

Or customers can go to the source and buy a live alpaca, one of the 14 at Silver Fox Farm Alpacas – if the Stoklosas can be sure it will be properly cared for.

“The alpacas are like family to me. A lot of people I’ve had to turn down because after I went to their place, I saw it was terrible. They just didn’t have the facilities,” Ralph Stoklosa said.

Before the economy sank in 2008, alpacas were selling on average for $6,000 up to $30,000 for a pregnant female, he said. “Today you can get a nice gelding or fiber animal for $500 to $1,000.”

There are about 180,000 alpacas in the United States, according to the Alpaca Registry Inc. About 146,000 are the huacaya breed, with crimped hair, and 33,000 are the suri breed, with longer, less-crimped hair.

New Jersey has 4,238 huacaya alpacas, including those at Silver Fox Farm, and 858 suri alpacas.

There are about 3 million alpacas in Peru, almost none of them registered.

Stoklosa said alpacas are very clean, easy to clean up after, like to stay at arm’s length from people and make good watchdogs. “I think it’s easier to take care of them than a dog. You have to spend more time with a dog.”

Few dogs, though, are 100 to 185 pounds and need a shot to prevent parasites each month.

For those who just want the cute alpaca without the work, there is a life-sized baby alpaca handmade from alpaca fleece at the store in Stainton’s for $400.

Besides the farm and the Ocean City shop, the Stoklosas do lots of fairs and shows in the fall, including the hugely popular Batsto Country Living Fair – and they don’t just bring the finished products.

“We always bring two alpacas because that’s the draw,” Ralph Stoklosa said.

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Worked as a reporter for various weekly newspapers in Ocean, Atlantic and Cape May counties before joining The Press many moons (and editors) ago as a business copy editor. Passionate about journalism, averse to serial commas.