Tucked in between Frankfort and Benzonia is a 145-acre haven, Crystal Lake Alpaca Farm.
As you pull up the drive, you’re greeted by green pasture, a freshly painted red barn and Naomi and Banner – the Great Pyrenees who guard it. The family farm is home to Chris and David Nelson and nearly 40 alpacas.
“We’ve had the alpacas for about 12 years,” Chris says. “We went to a friend’s alpaca farm, and we instantly fell in love. We have a sign on our pasture that says ‘caution they will steal your heart.’”
Walking through the pasture, Chris calls each alpaca by name. Sophia, Cocoa and Velvet Mistress are a few of the females in the herd. The newest members to the family are Lexi and Crystal Pharaoh, who were born on May 13 and June 2. Chris is expecting three or four more to be born in June.
Though visitors aren’t allowed in the barn or pasture, you’re invited to visit the farm and relax on a bench while watching the alpacas. On nice days, Crystal Skylar is brought down from the male barn and likes to be pet.
In the U.S., alpacas are raised for their fiber, which is spun into yarn for clothing and other products.
“(The fiber) is just unbelievable,” Chris says. “It’s strong. People actually take the fiber in South America and make rope out of it and bind bridges together.”
Alpaca fiber is fire retardant and water repellant. It’s also softer than cashmere and warmer than wool.
People visiting the farm can feel the fiber in the Alpaca Boutique, which is starting its fourth year.
“I had a little boy come in the other day and he picked (a teddy bear) up and he said, ‘I just touched heaven,’” Chris says.
The boutique is located in the barn across from the pasture. The money made from the shop goes right back to the farm and is used to buy feed and make repairs.
Visitors will find yarn from the farm’s alpacas along with sweaters, socks, stuffed animals, hats and other fair trade products from Peru. The boutique will be open Monday through Saturday from 1 to 5 pm until October 17. From November 21 to January 2, the shop will be open Wednesday through Saturday.
- Alpacas aren’t native to the United States. They were imported from Peru, Chile and Bolivia.
- There are two types of alpaca. The Huacaya has short, soft hair. The Suri has longer hair that hangs from the body.
- You can’t be allergic to an alpaca because there isn’t lanolin in the fiber.
- A sweater made from alpaca yarn only needs to be washed once every five to ten years. The fiber has hollow pockets inside, which allows the fabric to breathe and essentially it cleans itself.
- A baby alpaca is called a “cria.” A female is a “hembra” and a male is a “macho.”
- An alpaca has three stomachs.
- On average, an alpaca lives to be 20 years old.
- Alpaca fiber comes in 22 colors including black, gray, brown, fawn, rose-gray, red, apricot and white. White is the most common and grey and black are the most rare.
- Alpacas have communal bathrooms.
- Alpacas do spit, but normally just at each other. They only spit at humans if they feel threatened.
Alpacas vs. Llamas
- Weigh 150 lbs.
- Have soft fleece
- Are gentle
- Can learn tricks
- Can weigh more than 400 lbs.
- Have coarse fleece
- Are brave
- Can carry heavy packs