By Jennie Zeitler, Staff Writer
JoAnn Beckley simply fell in love with alpacas.
“I had seen ads on TV, and ran across an alpaca farm after making a wrong turn one day,” she said. “I just fell in love with them.”
Not knowing anything about alpacas, JoAnn and her husband, Dick, brought four alpacas home in 2004. Pine Cone Ridge Farm has grown from that humble beginning.
One came from a farm near Albany. Six other alpacas were found in Wisconsin and various locations around Minnesota. The other alpacas were all born at the farm.
Dick built a small barn for the first ones, adding a second barn when things got crowded. Later, he added a loafing pen across the barnyard.
One barn is for the boys and the other houses the girls. The barns don’t need to be heated. Several fenced runs fill the space between the barns.
Dick grew up on the land overlooking Sauk Lake’s Diamond Bay. He was gone for more than 35 years, before moving back with JoAnn in 1998.
“It was time to get out of the Cities,” he said.
The Beckleys have three acres, two of which are used by the alpacas.
“It doesn’t take a lot of land to raise alpacas,” said JoAnn.
They are pleased with the alpacas and spend more time with them than might be necessary.
“It takes about three hours a day to care for them, but we’re out here more because we enjoy them,” said JoAnn. “I just love being out with them.”
“They’re friendly and easy to handle,” Dick said. “They are very curious, fairly smart and very low maintenance.”
The Beckleys are out with the alpacas four to five times a day in summer, feeding and cleaning up the barnyard, but about three times a day in winter.
Alpacas cost about as much per month to feed as a large dog. They simply need shearing, teeth and hoof trimming, worming and vaccinations.
Alpacas have an average lifespan of 18-20 years. The Beckleys’ oldest alpaca is Marta, who is 9.
The alpacas are sheared annually in spring. In the past, JoAnn has accomplished every step of the process taking the fibers fresh-from-the-alpaca to ready-to-knit.
“I’ve washed the fiber, but it’s a very tedious job,” she said.
JoAnn hand picks the debris from the fiber, and divides the coarser “grade two” fur from the finer “grade one” fur. The fiber is then taken to a mill where it is either made into roving (ready to spin) or spun into yarn.
This year, it was raining heavily on shearing day. The fiber is being dried before being sent to the mill.
“It’s the first year we’ve had to shear in the rain,” JoAnn said. “Since the shearing crew is from Oklahoma, it couldn’t be rescheduled.”
Two alpacas — Vanna and Dante — have been bottle-fed and have formed closer attachments to Dick and JoAnn.
“The birth of the crias (baby alpacas) is my favorite time,” said JoAnn.
The market for alpacas is currently depressed. The last sale the Beckleys made was in 2010, when five alpacas were purchased by a breeder in Northern Minnesota.
They have not bred any of their alpacas in the past few years since they don’t have room for additional animals.
The Beckleys have three children, one grandson and two great-grandchildren.
“Our great-granddaughter was walking around with the alpacas when she was still in diapers,” JoAnn said.
JoAnn would encourage others to consider raising alpacas.
“It’s a nice hobby if someone likes animals and has a little land,” she said. “It keeps a person younger.”
For more information, look online at www.pine coneridgealpacas.com or call (320) 352-6271.