The only alpaca known to have been born in the NWT is fighting to become the face of a new beer, while raising money for Veterinarians Without Borders.
Boris, a happy accident at Fort Smith’s Flat World Alpaca Farm, is a leading contender in the charity’s Ales and Animals photo contest, which closes on May 16.
If he pulls off an unlikely victory, Boris will become the mascot of Guelph, Ontario-based Fixed Gear Brewing’s Best Friends Session IPA.
At the time of writing, Boris is in eighth place out of hundreds of entries. Every other contender in the top 10 is a dog.
Flat World’s Hélèna Katz said she entered Boris in a largely canine contest because she “wanted to get people thinking about the agriculture that is possible here in the North.”
Katz said she also wanted to support Veterinarians Without Borders’ work in the North, which involves regular trips to offer vaccinations and spay-neuter clinics in a range of NWT and Nunavut communities.
You can vote for Boris on the Veterinarians Without Borders contest page. Be aware that each vote is attached to a $1 donation.
Below, read our interview transcript with Hélèna Katz to find out more about how Boris came to be, the rest of the alpacas at the farm, and his entry into the contest.
This interview was recorded on May 3, 2023. The transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
Ollie Williams: So Boris is the only alpaca to be born in the NWT?
Hélèna Katz: As far as we know, yes. The rest of our alpacas were born in Alberta. It wasn’t entirely planned, but we were very happy. We’re delighted to have him.
We have to keep our males and females in separate pens because you want to control when they’re breeding. We were feeding the animals and a gate between the male and female pen was accidentally left open. Our breeding male at the time spotted the open gate as an opportunity. During the evening, we looked outside and realized he was in the female pen with one of our alpacas. We hustled him out of there and did a pregnancy test – which, for an alpaca, involves putting the male and female together in a small pen a couple of weeks later and, if the female spits at him, then she’s pregnant.
I can’t believe we don’t use that with humans.
Wouldn’t that be interesting?
We did the pregnancy test with one of the females that we spotted him with, but she didn’t spit. What we didn’t realize till the following year – alpacas have a gestation period of 11 and a half months – was that in fact, just before we caught him, he had been having a dance with his main squeeze, Carmel. We didn’t realize this until we looked outside and there was Boris, next to Carmel. He was minutes old and he was standing up beside her.
All the other alpacas are from Alberta?
They were all born into our herd. When we first got the original ones, they were being boarded on a farm near Grande Prairie while we finished building the infrastructure for our alpacas – the barn, pastures and so forth. We brought the male alpacas up in 2009 and then we brought the females up a few years later. All of the alpacas that we have now were born into our herd, but Boris is the one that was actually physically born here, on our farm.
This was actually my partner Mike’s idea. We’re on an acreage in the Bell Rock subdivision of Fort Smith and we had to firesmart the property to reduce the risk of forest fires. He thought: “Now that we’ve done that, we’ve got all this beautiful acreage that we can do something with.” We decided we wanted animals.
The thing about alpacas is they’re really well-suited for our climate here in the South Slave region. They are very hardy animals. They’re from the Andes mountains of Peru so, generally, they’re used to temperatures that go down to -20C at night. Our low temperatures in the winter aren’t an issue. We do have an unheated barn that they can go in if they want to get out of the wind. There are times when we’ve looked outside, it’s 25 below, and they’re all lying around the feeder, just hanging out.
They’re also pretty low-maintenance. It’s not like cows and horses that require a bit more work. The other thing that’s really good about them is they don’t require intervention when they have their babies. It’s pretty much a do-it-yourself operation – as Boris can attest. They just kind-of come out of the chute and there they are.
How did you become aware of the contest?
I became aware of Veterinarians Without Borders’ work a couple of years ago and I thought it was pretty cool that they will work with northern communities that request it. In Fort Smith, we’re really lucky because we do have a vet that comes from High Level about every six weeks. I often joke that my animals have more consistent healthcare than I do, because they see the same vet all the time! But a lot of communities aren’t lucky enough to have a vet visit regularly. So I really like the fact that Veterinarians Without Borders is working in remote communities in Nunavut and the Northwest Territories.
I wanted to support them and then this contest came out. I thought this would be a really great way to do some fundraising for them as a thank-you for coming into the North and helping us. It’s also a nice opportunity because we have two livestock guardian dogs here to keep predators away from our alpacas, but I deliberately chose Boris the alpaca because I also wanted to get people thinking about the agriculture that is possible here in the North.
What would it mean to you and Boris to be the face of the Best Friends Session IPA?
It’s a microbrewery in Ontario and I think it would be a really nice way to raise awareness about the fact that you can do agriculture in the North – to get people’s attention and say, yeah, you can actually do agriculture here, despite some of the challenges like regular access to vet care.