by Andrea Mattingly
“Giiiii-rrrrllls,” Laurel Shouvlin yodeled out three times, getting louder and longer with each call. Wondering why the girls were keeping some visitors waiting, Shouvlin peeked her head around the tree, and finally saw the girls prancing, as an entire group, to the top of the farm’s rolling hill.
When they arrived, they began to eye the unfamiliar faces around them, but quickly overcame their uncertainty and walked up to each guest and leaned their long necks out for a pat and a scratch.
These huacaya and suri alpacas are the center of Bluebird Hills Farm in Springfield, Ohio, where Shouvlin is the primary caretaker of around 60 males and females. Alpacas are most profitable for their velvety-soft fibers, but for Shouvlin, it is the love and passion for these peculiar-looking and acting animals that keeps her in business.
“Every day is like a vacation here,” said Shouvlin, 58, while the alpacas hummed, screeched and whined behind her. “My goal is to pay for my addiction.”
Shouvlin tugged on her jacket, which read “Entremanure,” and knocked her silvery hair out of her face as the wind picked up. Shouvlin is a petite woman, but her love for her animals looms large as she tells how her alpaca addiction first began.
In 1997, Shouvlin said her husband, Tim Shouvlin, whose father is the Shouvlin of Shouvlin Center, made a life-changing action. While they were looking to “diversify” their CSA (Community
Supported Agriculture) vegetable farm, Shouvlin brought home a magazine article on alpacas.
“It’s a day he will regret for the rest of his life,” chuckled Laurel Shouvlin.
Laurel Shouvlin shears the alpacas once a year during the springtime, in order to collect their fleece. She sells painted yarn woven from this fleece, hand-knitted scarves and felted rugs during local and national fairs.
But Shouvlin emphasized that making a profit is not her goal. With four children of her own, Shouvlin said that raising children on the farm taught many life lessons. They learned about “the birds and the bees,” life, death and health care at an early age.
Shouvlin said she loves and cares deeply for each alpaca.
But sometimes “you want to smack ‘em upside the head and shut ‘em up,” Shouvlin said.
Additionally, Shouvlin understands that their lives are finite, and most do not live past age 23, and many have passed away during Shouvlin’s lifetime.
“Livestock is dead stock,” Shouvlin said. “[But] it gets in your blood.”
Additionally, Shouvlin works as the treasurer for the Alpaca Owners Association, and travels to many alpaca shows across Ohio and other states. As a graduate of Wittenberg University in 1979 with a major in biology, Shouvlin no longer practices as a physician’s assistant, but dedicates her time to her animals.
“Life is way too freaking short,” Shouvlin said. “Don’t find a job that makes the money; find what makes you happy…[and] pursue your passion.”