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By John Oliver, President, Historical Society

When Louisiana native Debra Stall and her husband Matt Starner moved to Tennessee, it didn’t take them long to realize that the hills were calling.

Soon they owned a few acres of countryside in the Cato Community, right at the edges of Trousdale and Macon counties!

Besides enjoying the view of a creek and the sun as it set over the hill, they decided that living on a small farm also required a few farm animals. Pretty soon they had a flock of chickens and farm-fresh eggs on the griddle.

Photo courtesy of Dixon Creek Farm

But they longed for more, and the answer to what four-legged animal might satisfy that need wasn’t hard to find. You see, Debra is a lifelong lover of knitting and weaving. She can pick up a pair of knitting needles and in no time have a wool rug or a pair of mittens or even a toddler’s knit hat.

In looking around at fibers, Debra knew that the South American alpaca had wool that was softer than sheep and was hypoallergenic. That is, it wouldn’t make you break out itching like sheep’s wool can.

Plus the animals are known for their gentle disposition. So the couple purchased a few of the animals!

Debra Stall will be the guest speaker at the Trousdale County Historical Society’s 2 p.m. meeting on Saturday, Feb. 8 at the County Archives building at 328 Broadway. She will talk about her alpacas and demonstrate her weaving and spinning. Debra will also bring some of her finished items to show off and sell.

Now in addition to her job as a financial consultant for health-related businesses, Debra and Matt operate their Dixon Creek Farm and raise and sell alpaca products.

You can check out their website at dixoncreekfarm.com.

Debra and Matt shear their animals every spring, then clean and prepare the fibers for spinning, which she does herself. The alpacas come in a variety of natural colors from buff to black, but sometimes a scarf or knitted sweater needs just a touch of blue, yellow or red, so Debra dyes some fibers using all-natural dyes.

At their home on Parker Branch Road, they have a shop set up where they sell skeins of the prepared fibers. Debra uses a spinning wheel to turn the fibers into yarn. She also uses looms to make some of the garments she sells.

Meanwhile, Matt tends daily to their herd of 14 alpacas.

Unlike most herd animals, alpacas are naturally inclined to be clean, even to the extent of having a set area in their pasture to use for a bathroom!

And alpacas are cheaper to feed than cattle!

We walked the pasture with Matt and met some of the gang. The boys have names like Yeti, Big Baby, Cletus, Winston and Randall. The girls go for the more feminine names like Emi, Izzy, Margarita and Breeze.

Matt has built facilities for the alpacas and has the feeding process down to a science. And because of their clean nature, the smell of the barn is that of fresh hay and sunshine and the warm breath of the animals themselves.

Debra and Matt have one weekend every year when they invite the public to their farm to mix with the animals and enjoy the country atmosphere, plus food and other crafts people on hand. Look on their website for upcoming dates.

In the meantime, Debra can book you for a day in the country where she will introduce you to her girls and boys and then let you pick a skein of fibers to make into a finished product right there in her shop, either knitting or using one of her looms. By the end of the session you will have an original scarf or table runner or knit hat to take home!

Debra and Matt may be familiar with folks for the handmade soaps that they have been making and selling since they came to Tennessee. The soaps are made using the cold process and use all natural vegetable oils, no animal fats or byproducts.

The soaps and other handmade and unique items are also available at their shop.

And if you are out for a drive some Sunday afternoon in the country, and you see a passel of foreign-looking, fuzzy, four-legged animals with a friendly grin on their faces – you are looking at an alpaca farm!