Richard and Gail Steffke spend between 70 and 80 hours each week tending to an alpaca farm the two purchased in 2008, but they don't consider a single moment to be work -- in the traditional meaning of the word.
"It's not a job," Richard Steffke said."There's not a time clock out there. It's like, why be a parent? You have to do it everyday."
In many ways, the Steffkes are parents to the 53 alpacas and one dog that live at the Gibraltar Bay Alpacas, 8545 Groh Road, on Grosse Ile. They wake up early each day, after sometimes getting as little as three hours of sleep, and feed and clean up after their "children."
"It's a passion for us," Gail Steffke said. "We love the animals and we've turned our passion into a business."
Richard Steffke had his first experience with alpacas in 2000 when he went to the farm to fix a fence and became immediately enamoured with the gentle creatures. Three months later, the couple purchased their first alpaca, then a second and then a third.
When the farm's previous owners decided to sell the farm the Steffkes jumped at the chance to own what had become a nearly daily stop for them. Most alpaca owners board their animals at the farm and visit quite often.
Kay Murphy purchased "Sunny With a Chance of Rain" from the Steffkes and fell so hard for her new friend, she sold her house in Redford and moved to the island, so she could be closer to her alpaca.
"It's like a dog except without the barking," Murphy said. "They're just wonderful creatures."
It's not uncommon to see owners visiting their animals and volunteering around the farm. Gibraltar Bay Alpacas sells, boards, breeds and births Huacaya (pronounced Wuh-kai-ya) alpacas, and Richard Steffke said people are constantly visiting the farm to walk their animals, volunteer or learn about alpacas.
The Steffkes often invite organizations and schools from around Downriver to the farm to learn about and be close to alpacas. Children visiting the farm are handed a bucket of carrots to feed the animals.
One volunteer helped deliver a newborn alpaca, or cria, on her first day at the farm -- she bought one of her own a few weeks later. Having visitors to the farm is the best advertising, Richard Steffke said.
Alpacas are periodically shaved for their fleece, which is then made into a number of items including yarn. The Steffkes said Alpacas are not hurt or killed during this process.
The farm sells a number of alpaca related items in the gift shop including what Gail Steffke calls "the finest yarn in the country." There are also alpaca fleece hats, gloves and scarves available for purchase, as well as clothing.
Gibraltar Bay Alpacas is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday and closed Monday and Tuesday.
Though the farm is closed two days each week, Richard Steffke said he rarely gets a day off from the alpacas, which is also similar to parenting.
To the Steffkes, alpacas are a way of life. When asked why someone would want to own one they likened the experience to that of owning a horse or a cat.
"We know why we like the alpacas," Richard Steffke said. "It's in your heart. You can't put a label on it."
Gibraltar Bay Alpacas and Fabulous Fibers Alpacas are hosting their 2nd annual Trunk Show and Fashion Event from 5 to 9 p.m. Nov. 17 at the Grosse Ile Pilot House, 9645 Groh Road.
Admission is $12 at the door and $10 in advance to see an entire line of alpaca fleece products. The cost includes appetizers, beverages and door prizes.
Visit the Gibraltar Bay Alpacas Facebook page for more information about the farm and the fashion show or call 734-675-6220.