Here comes trouble
Earlier this year, Cindy and Bill Bergen welcomed Trouble to their Farmville-area farm. That’s Trouble with a capital T.
I chatted with the Bergens about the circumstances that brought them here. After raising children in Pennsylvania, they decided to pursue a dream, to establish an alpaca farm. They spent a few years looking for just the right place. They fell in love with Farmville. The town offered a huge bonus. A daughter and son-in-law worked for Longwood University and lived nearby.
I looked around their farm and envisioned all the hard labor it must take to keep it going. “So, you thought this would be a good idea for a relaxing, restful retirement?”
That made Bill laugh. No, they weren’t thinking of retirement, only a change of direction. “We just stopped doing what we were doing. We didn’t think we would do well with a life of leisure.”
Cindy was the first to become enamored of the fluffy animals. She explained that her youngest daughter had worked as a nanny. A child in her daughter’s care had special needs, and the quest to find new things for him to experience led her to an alpaca farm. Cindy tagged along.
“The alpacas were such easy, gentle creatures,” she says. “Within a short time, the young boy bonded with the animals. It was a therapeutic experience.”
And for Cindy it was love at first sight. Alpacas were fascinating animals and not overwhelming. Plus, they were cute. So, Cindy started the process of convincing Bill to consider raising alpacas.
Bill claims the progression from cute to a viable business plan took several years and a lot of research. Then, in 2016, magic happened. He likens the family’s transition to toppling dominos. “All the pieces were in place before we flipped them over.”
On the last day of a visit to Farmville, a possible property popped up during an internet search. They followed GPS directions, and Cindy remembers the search. “We went through Tuggle. We went down, and up, and around, looping all over.”
They loved the property but were concerned about the long drive. When they explored the surrounds, they were in for a pleasant surprise. Bill doesn’t know why the GPS took them on such a circuitous route. “Actually, it was only 10 minutes from town.”
Bright Eyes Alpaca Retreat was born. The Bergens constructed a barn, readied the pastures, and welcomed five female alpacas. They also introduced two watchdogs, Jake, a Great Pyrenees, and Jili, an Italian Maremma Sheepdog. The dogs help provide protection from potential predators, such as coyote, bobcat and bear.
The Bergens planned to maintain an all-female herd because of the trouble associated with introducing a male. “Males will breed on contact,” Bill explains. A male would have to be isolated, and because they are such social animals, it would be necessary to keep more than one.
Last year, three pregnant females joined the herd. One, Bunny, gave birth to the first baby alpaca born on the Bergen’s farm. “It was a baby born after a challenging pregnancy and a difficult birth. And it was male.” Cindy reports. “We knew just what to call him: Trouble.”
Trouble has had practice living up to his name. Recently, he slipped under a pasture gate and couldn’t get back. The dogs called for help. “The dogs knew something wasn’t right and alerted us. They have a different kind of bark when there’s a problem,” Cindy explains.
“Alpacas only purpose in life is to be cute,” Cincy insists. “Well, they make fiber, too,” she adds. Most of the fiber becomes yarn, and some fiber from their farm gets sold to people who prefer to spin their own yarn. Some gets felted and transformed into items such as dryer balls or travel soap bars.
Bright Eyes Alpaca Retreat welcomes visitors. Groups come for educational tours. Some people stay in an on-site Airbnb facility. An open barn event is planned for September so the community can meet all the animals, including Trouble.
But how do the Bergens feel about their choice to settle in Farmville? Cindy says, “The community has embraced us. We couldn’t be happier.”
KAREN BELLENIR has been writing for The Farmville Herald since 2009. Her book, Happy to Be Here: A Transplant Takes Root in Farmville, Virginia features a compilation of her columns. It is available from PierPress.com. You can contact Karen at kbellenir@PierPress.com.