Farm Horizons, May 2010
A love for alpacas: area breeder shares her passion for the gentle animals
By Kristen Miller
Just miles north of Silver Lake, retired real estate agent Ruth Kinkade has made herself a small cottage industry of raising alpacas, not only for their luxurious fleece, but also because they make wonderful and easy-to-care-for pets.
Alpacas, which resemble small llamas and are in the camelid family, originally grazed the Andes Mountains of Peru and their fleece was reserved for Incan royalty and considered “gold of the Andes,” Kinkade explained.
Kinkade, who moved from the Twin Cities in 2005, calls her alpaca herd of 26 (14 babies are expected soon) the “brothers and sisters of The Abbey.” She came up with The Abbey as a name for her farm because she enjoyed touring old abbeys during her travels to countries like Scotland and Italy.
This would also be a way to identify her own herd through the official Alpaca Registry. Each animal’s blood is tested and registered (to track for breeding purposes) and the animal is then marked with an identification chip for verification, according to Kinkade. This also helps track stolen alpaca, she said.
Growing up, Kinkade had always dreamed of someday living on a farm. She thought about raising goats and using their milk to make cheese. Then, she saw an alpaca and melted.
“They need to come with a warning that they will steal your heart out and take you away,” she said.
She started her herd with two alpacas. Because alpacas are herd animals, they need to be sold in pairs or they will get lonesome, Kinkade said.
Alpacas can be raised for several purposes, if not just because they make good pets, because they are gentle animals that are easy to care for.
An average female weighs about 110 pounds, and an average male weighs about 175 pounds.
“They are cute, unique animals and people really like them,” Kinkade said. They can even be trained to walk on a leash, she added.
Kinkade donated two alpacas to the Lakeview Ranch of Dassel, which specializes in dementia care.
“Even people who have no response to any stimulus will all of a sudden reach out and touch the [alpaca] when it comes in,” Kinkade said. “I think that’s wonderful it makes your heart melt.”
Alpacas communicate by humming. When Kinkade is having a rough day, Kinkade will walk down to the barn and spend time with the herd. “All of a sudden, the world is better,” she said.
The most common reason for raising alpacas is for their fleece.
The fleece is said to be seven times warmer than wool, softer than cashmere, and is 100 percent hypoallergenic.
Sheared fleece can be sold without doing any additional work to it. A blanket of fleece can be sold between $95 to $160 right off the animal, Kinkade said.
The blanket can also be sent to a mill, where it is cleaned and processed into yarn or roving (combed, cleaned, and ready to spin). With a little practice, a person can do all of this on their own, as well, according to Kinkade.
The fleece can also be traded at a co-op or made into batting for quilts.
“Alpaca fleece is amazing. It’s very light and incredibly warm,” she said.
Because of their rich fiber, breeding alpacas can be a lucrative business. Kinkade compared it to race horses and told of a particular alpaca in Colorado that recently sold for $650,000.
There are also “excellent animals” right here in Minnesota, Kinkade said, who recently returned from the third annual Minnesota Alpaca Expo, which she helps coordinate. This is also the largest alpaca exhibit in the five-state area, bringing in 600 animals from across the US, she said.
Kinkade figures a person can breed a pair of alpacas and sell a young male for $400, or a young female for $5,000 to $10,000.
For beginner breeders, the farm where the alpacas were purchased from will likely be willing to help with animals and give any necessary advice, Kinkade said. She has learned to clean, card, and spin the fleece herself.
“Before, I couldn’t knit myself out of a paper bag,” she said. Now, she teaches classes to others at The Abbey. During a recent class, Kinkade taught how to make wool pets. To attend upcoming classes, look for a schedule online at www.theabbeyalpacas.com. Yarn and other items made with alpaca fleece can also be purchased on the web site.
Since the fleece is hypoallergenic, each year the Abbey donates 50 alpaca teddy bears to cancer patients at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota.
Alpacas are not only beneficial for their fleece, but they can also be used to help grow a better garden with the use of the manure as fertilizer.
Alpaca droppings are known as alpaca beans. They resemble little brown beans and make excellent plant food and soil conditioner, Kinkade explained. Beans are best applied to gardens in the late fall or early winter and are also recommended for composting.
For more information about raising alpacas or other related questions, contact Kinkade at (612) 483-3506 or visit The Abbey online at www.theabbeyalpacas.com.