Meet Deb Galway: The woman with a love for fluffy, loveable creatures
An interview with mother, animal lover, and alpaca farm owner.
Along the I-505 highway lies a haven for all things alpacas. Menagerie Hill Ranch is tucked away on some 3000 acre land in the English Hills just north of Vacaville, California. At the farm, you are greeted by a lady named Deb Galway, armed with muddy boots, a vest, and an unmatched enthusiasm towards alpacas. A farm tour, costing 25 dollars a person, consists of learning about, feeding, and petting Deb’s alpaca herd.
Alpacas are relatively quiet and unresisting in nature. In addition to being adorable, an alpaca’s worth lies in its fluffy coat, as their main use is for fibre production. Alpaca wool is warmer and expensive in comparison to sheep’s wool; perhaps the reason why someone, like Deb, may find themselves raising a herd.
However, the origins of Menagerie Hill Ranch sinks deeper than an alpaca herd. In 1929, the stock market crashed and America found itself in a severe economic recession that would last for 10 years. During this time, Deb’s parents grew up with livestock, but not because they shared an enthusiasm towards herding cattle. “Back then, you did what you could to feed yourself, and that’s how they fed themselves,” says Deb. Between herding cattle as their main source of nourishment, Deb’s mom was a housewife and Deb’s dad worked as a business manager in the English Hills.
Through the pixelated webcam window, I see a tapestry with an embroidered alpaca and a framed award of sorts hanging on Deb’s wall. She continues, “I had a dog, and that was it. I always wanted to have some property and some animals someday. I didn’t really have a firm plan, it was just kind of an overall concept.”
In 2008, Deb and her partner, Kirk, moved from Sacramento to the English Hills with the intention of starting four things: a family, an orchard, a garden, and a farm. The Galway Family made all of the above happen; they have two kids, own thousands of acres of land, and tend to dozens of alpacas and llamas. By the time her children were old enough to join 4H, an activity where children “raise an animal, show the animal, then sell the animal,” Deb found herself raising goats for her daughter. After adding up the expenses of show-quality livestock, Deb took the initiative to breed livestock on her own.
What began with pet goats eventually led to pigs, horses, and in Deb’s own words “every other species on the planet” due to her kids participation in 4H. By the time Deb discovered alpacas, they already had plenty of other farm animals, so she figured there was no harm in one more. Once her kids went off to college, and 4H was no more, Deb made the decision to specialise in alpacas.
Deb has 28 alpacas, each one unique and cuddly in their own right. She also has four llamas that protect the alpacas. Her alpacas contribute to Menagerie Hill Ranch’s plethora of services, including festivals, tours, special events, wool, and breedings. Within the last few years, Deb observed an influx of people wanting an alpaca at their weddings and work parties. “I don’t know why, but for some reason they do, and it makes us some money,” she laughs.
As someone who has embarked on a Menagerie Hill Ranch tour myself, I asked Deb if there is anything she hopes people take away from them. “I want them to be educational and fun,” says Deb. I recounted a fact I learned on my alpaca tour: llamas are the alpaca’s cousin, who spit as a defence mechanism, and guard the herds of alpacas.
Deb, a smile painting across her face, told me more about the behaviour of llamas, their relation to alpacas, and proceeded to explain the media’s unfair portrayal of the furry foes.