Silver Thunder Alpacas is located in Greeneville, Tennessee. Before leaving Southern California Silver Thunder Alpacas was known as Silver Thunder Alpaca Ranch. Silver Thunder. The Promise of the Silver Lining. The Power of Thunder. Silver Thunder Alpacas Home Page
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Tennessee Home - Silver Thunder Alpacas is proud of their new hometown - Greeneville, Tennessee

Headed Toward The Sunrise.

The Road goes ever on and on
out from the door where it began.
And I must follow, if I can,
pursuing it with eager feet,
until it joins some larger way
where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.

Still 'round the corner there may wait
a new road or a secret gate.
And though I oft have passed them by,
a day will come at last when I
will take the hidden paths that run
west of the moon, east of the sun.

from the writings of J.R.R. Tolkein

The Silver Thunder Alpacas Story
or . . . How we got started in the alpaca business

Ok. Let's see. This is Chuck talking. Sometime back, in about June of 2003, I was searching on the internet and came across the concept of alpacas. No idea why. Life is funny that way. Wasn't looking for something life-changing or anything remotely like that, but the more I learned, the more interesting it all began to seem.

When I told Nancy about it, she generally thought I was nuts. "You want to raise WHAT?" That is, until a few weeks later when we finally visited our first alpaca ranch. When she saw the animals in person, everything changed for her. She fell in love.

That first visit was to Critter Country in Moreno Valley, California, about a hundred miles from L.A., to the east, on the inland or desert side of The Greater Los Angeles Area. (For those unfamiliar with Southern California, this is "the edge of town". Since L.A. is very crowded and all the cities run together, you don't reach any countryside until you drive at least a hundred miles. This is very hard for country people to comprehend.) Cindy and Mark Mendiola who run Critter Country were very helpful, telling us all about the alpacas. We saw crias pronking for the first time in our lives. We were fascinated. And of course we fell in love with the very first cria (baby alpaca) we ever met, Kodiak, when he came up and nuzzled my nose. Cindy had to talk us out of buying him on the spot, explaining that he was only gelding quality (which meant nothing to us at the time) and offering the excellent advice that we'd be best advised to start out with quality breeding females. We learned a lot that day. But the main thing was that our hearts were won over by the alpacas, these wonderful critters that have since become a major part of our lives. Critter Country will always hold a special place in our hearts. Here's their website:

So thus we took the plunge and began exploring this wonderful new world of alpacas. We visited several of the breeders around Los Angeles, learning so very much with every visit. We attended a few seminars. After a few months we made the decision to buy: The decision that, yes, we really did want to get involved with these beautiful animals. (I've read that statistically, most people take about a year between starting to look and actually buying. We purchased in September, so for us it took four months.) Then we visited many of those same ranches again as we searched for which particular animal to purchase. Lots of good choices out there, but eventually we had to narrow it down to one animal on one ranch.

Because we could only afford to buy ONE, we knew we'd have to board. (Only later did we realize how important this decision was to be. For us it became invaluable lessons learned by actual experience in the form of on-the-job training every Saturday for nearly a year.) So which ranch we purchased from became as important to the final decision as which animal to buy. This is especially true for a first-time buyer, getting their very first alpaca. As a brand new breeder, you want to hook up with someone who can be a mentor for you and teach you everything you need to know about caring for these animals.

Here are some of the great Southern California ranches we visited (along with Critter Country mentioned above), all highly recommended:

Pacifica - John and Tina Malkus (Great ranch setup page)
Four Seasons - Jeff & Marianne Bradley
Rolling Thunder - Nancy and Jimmy Stepp
Alpacas del Valle Cereza (Cherry Valley) - Lisa Shimeld and Brad Johnson
Alpaca Palms - Bea and Dennis Miller
All American Alpacas - Rick and Pati Horn

Buying our first alpaca
We are very pleased with our eventual pick. In September of 2003 we purchased our first alpaca, Snowmass Lady Guinevere, from John and Tina Malkus at Pacifica in Somis, California. (Alpaca de la Pacifica is their long name, but I like Pacifica.) Here is their web site:

John and Tina were a huge help to us in getting started. They patiently answered our never-ending questions and continuously taught us alpaca lore and history. It was like a giant yearlong apprenticeship. They introduced us to other alpaca people. They offered ongoing farming advice on everything from how to know good hay to what kind of tractor to buy. We learned medical stuff and saw births and breedings. We helped on shearing day. And the learning has never stopped. We still call John or Tina up for advice on a regular basis. We owe them a great debt of gratitude. So thanks John, thanks Tina. We really appreciate all you've done for us.

Now our first alpaca, Gwenny, came to us already pregnant. So by the following December, three months later, we had our first baby. Gingerbread, we named her, for she was born on Christmas Eve. (We began learning that genetics is full of surprise and mystery. You can just never be sure what you're going to get. With a grey mom bred to a white herdsire, we had all kinds of grey and silver sounding names picked out. But when Gingerbread popped out, she was . . . BROWN! She's real pretty, but we were floored since we just weren't expecting brown. It's all just so unpredictable. Part of the fun, I guess.)

So now we had two alpacas.

Since we lived in a little suburban tract home, we began to consider where we could buy some land so that we could raise them on our own. California is expensive, but we looked anyway. And looked, . . . and looked. Started checking further and further away. Up the coast or into the mountains, out to the desert. Eventually figured out that the only land we could afford with any measurable acreage would be out where it's baking hot and/or where no one else wants to live. Not liking either of those choices, we started thinking about where else in the country we might go.

Besides, things were changing in our lives. The kids were all long gone from, not only the house, but from the area. One in Pittsburgh, one in Tahoe, one considering a move to Oregon. They were the first ones to suggest, "You gotta get out of that L.A. rat race" and such things. At first, I didn't see the need. After all, I was born here and it was home. I liked Southern California. Why leave? But slowly it began to get to us. The traffic. The crowds. It had all been getting worse for many years, but we had become accustomed to it. Now it started to bother us. We noticed that every Saturday when we drove to Pacifica, the freeway would come to a stop at some point due to traffic jams. On a Saturday! In the morning! Every dang week! Used to be that it didn't bother me - after 20 years of commuting an hour each way (for a 25 mile drive) I was used to it. But now it began to get to us.

I got "Places Rated Almanac" and started comparing other parts of the country, looking heavily at things like climate comfort (weather), cost of living (cheap land), and lifestyle (less crowded, less people, less traffic). We could ignore some issues: We didn't concentrate on schools, for instance, since our kids were all grown up.

One area of the country that kept coming up high on the list was East Tennessee. So we took a trip out to visit. Took the Amtrak, so we could see a lot of the rest of the country along the way. Went via Chicago to Pittsburgh where, after visiting our son, Ken, we rented a car and drove on down to Knoxville by way of Ohio and Kentucky. Then took four days to tour the upper portion of the Tennessee Valley from Knoxville to Bristol. Visited a couple of alpaca farms along the way, hitting all the main towns and staying in a different hotel each night. We were impressed with what we saw. And this despite the fact that we were traveling in the midst of winter. (This was on purpose, since I wanted to see it "at its worst" rather than be wooed by pretty spring greenery or colorful fall foliage.) It was also raining much of the time as a cold December storm was blowing through. We decided that we loved the place.

We also decided that we liked the town of Greeneville. It was big enough to have everything we might need, yet small enough to be friendly and comfortable. Accessible from major highways, but slightly off the beaten path. The surrounding Greene County had lots of rolling farm land, all beautifully scenic. Lots of barns, lots of cows, lots of hayfields. Everything an aspiring alpaca farmer might desire.

And friendly folks. As it should be, life is a bit slower here, dominated by an agrarian way of life from time long ago. People have time to wave. Passing drivers will acknowledge each other with a lift of the hand. You don't have to know the other guy, it's just acknowledging "howdy, fellow traveler." People will greet you at the grocery store, or even offer advice, asked for or not, on what products to buy. It's stuff very hard for a city-raised person to comprehend at first. Took us by surprise the first time we visited the Winn-Dixie and a kid about fourteen who was coming out the door as we were entering actually nodded his head and said, "Hi." We were stunned, and only barely managed to stammer back a suitable pleasantry in return. It's just different here, and to us it's all wonderful.

We met the Durham's. Lara and Mike operate Appalachian Alpacas in the Limestone area of Greene County. They were the second ranch we visited on that exploratory trip. Their hearty enthusiasm for Greeneville and East Tennessee won us over as we sat in their kitchen discussing the area and talking alpaca. Those warm feelings stuck with us as we finished our trip and headed for home.

Once home we made the decision. Ok, let's do it. (Well, it took several months of talking, thinking, praying, but eventually that's what happened.) The house went up on the market and sold on the second day. All our stuff was packed into two giant containers (the big metal ones they load onto seagoing ships or piggyback trains). These were then parked in storage for later shipment across the country. We packed clothes and computers, plus the last stuff that wouldn't quite fit into the containers, along with our three cats (who by the way have their own web page) into two cars and a small trailer and headed across the country. The alpacas came later via transporter. Oh, and we bought one more alpaca before we left California. Celeste, a pregnant maiden who was due the following May.

Tennessee became our new home. This was in August of 2004. The Durham's were a huge help in getting us set up in Tennessee. They provided us with a rental house that we used for nine months as we searched for property and then had our house built. They loaned us land on which we could keep the alpacas while we finished our barns and fences. They offered us friendship and included us in family get-togethers as they taught us about life in East Tennessee. Thanks guys for being such a huge help. We appreciate all that you've done for us.

Here's their website:
Appalachian Alpacas - Lara and Mike Durham

So that's how a California couple living in a suburban crackerbox changed their entire lives in order to raise alpacas on five beautiful green acres and how they became trendsetters in the new eastward migration as they came to live in Tennessee, the greatest state in the land of the free.
Yes, folks, that's . . .

The Silver Thunder Alpacas Story
Head East, Not-So-Young Middle-Aged Man
Stay tuned. The Saga Continues

So, Just what is a Silver Thunder anyway . . .
The Power of Thunder, The Promise of the Silver Lining.

We needed a name that was not geographically tied to a particular area, since we started in one place but knew that we'd be moving to another. And we like lightning storms. (Though Southern California just doesn't have them very much - maybe three thunderclaps a year, on a good year. Nowadays in Tennessee we might get a doozy of a storm, with perhaps three strikes in a minute. We love it.)

We wanted a name that was somewhat poetic, somewhat majestic, somewhat mysterious. And a bit unpredictable. We think we succeeded.

Our Adopted Home Town: Greeneville, Tennessee

Greene County in Upper East Tennessee Click on map for enlarged view.

Click on "Tennessee Home" for more info about our lovely little city of Greeneville, located in Greene County, right at the eastern edge of what the old-timers call Upper East Tennessee. We're so close to the eastern edge of Tennessee that we're just about in North Carolina. In fact, from our front porch we can actually see the North Carolina border where it snakes along the high ridgetops of the Appalachian Mountains just six miles to our southeast. It's so beautiful here. Come and see.

Thanks again for visiting our website,
Chuck and Nancy

Silver Thunder Alpacas
Greeneville, Tennessee


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Note: All photos on this site are copyrighted property of C. LaBresh.

Proud to be an American.


This page last updated 7/4/06

Silver Thunder Alpacas has moved to their new home in Greeneville, Tennessee