Leading the pack of alpacas at Old Fields Farm

REED CITY – Though Nancy Turner credits “temporary insanity” as the reason she invested in the alpaca business, looking out her window and seeing the furry animals play melts her heart every time.

“I love to just sit and watch them play,” Turner said. “On day three or four (after birth) they figure out that they can run and jump and hop. They run up on top of a pile and leap off and chase birds and I’ll sit here and watch them.”

Turner moved from Connecticut to Old Fields Farm, her 70-acre alpaca farm which she named after a road in Connecticut, in 2005. Having a farm had been a life-long desire and raising alpacas seemed to be the perfect fit.

“I was living in Connecticut and working at a job that I didn’t love. I’ve always wanted to have a farm,” Turner said. “It was on my bucket list.”

After reading an article in a magazine about the financial benefits that come with owning and selling alpacas, she decided to invest in the growing business.

“I saw this article and thought, ‘They look like neat animals,’ so I did some research,” she said.

She bought eight animals in October of 2003 and boarded them at a farm in Grand Rapids. She moved to her farm,

located at 1919 200th Ave in Reed City, in April of 2005.

Her sister also decided to get into the alpaca business at the same time, and so did a number of other new farmers, she said.

“Back before the recession, people were refinancing their homes, taking the money and buying alpacas,” Turner said.

Since she bought her first eight animals, her farm has expanded to include a mostly-female alpaca herd of around 50 animals, two dogs, two horses and three cats.

She sheers the alpaca herself every year in the first week in June. One animal can be sheered in as little as six minutes, she said. After the annual sheering, she sells the fiber to a company which cleans it and sends it on to be processed into finished product such as yarn to be knitted into mittens, hats or rugs.

Though the animals serve partially as Turner’s livelihood, she also cares for them as pets. She often gets out of bed during late-night rainstorms to make sure all her alpacas are in the barn, she puts coats on the baby alpacas - called crias - when they are cold and has a kiddie pool for them to play in when it’s hot outside.

“Sometimes I’m out there at 3 a.m. just checking on them,” she said. “If they’re shivering, I’ll put a coat on them.”

Running the farm by herself, Turner said sometimes the animals are a lot to handle for a one-woman operation.

Though the male and female animals are kept in separate fields, that doesn’t stop them from getting to one another.

“Last year, I looked out (the window) and saw something on the ground out there. I went out there and said, ‘A baby? Where did you come from?’”Turner said. “I had no idea who the father was. It was absolute torture trying to figure it out.”

Turner drew the animal’s blood along with the blood of a few of her male alpacas and sent it in to be DNA tested.

Each animal is registered on the alpaca registry and receives a birth certificate which they must have in order to be sold. It is important to know the lineage of each animal, as the animal’s family lineage must be registered on the certificate along with their birth date, farm location and name.

“Lately, I name a baby with the same first letter the same as its mother’s - like if Annie had a baby, I’d name it with an “A,”” she said.

Though she enjoys naming each alpacca and caring for them like they are children, her future with the animals is unsure.

Since she began raising alpacas nine years ago Turner said the alpaca market has gone south. With profit margins dropping drastically and opportunities for financial gain being in the sale of the animal’s fiber rather than the animal itself, there has been significant change in the animal business.

“Back in 2005, it was all about breeding and the babies and making big bucks,” Turner said. “A small farm of 10 or 20 animals could make a lot of money, if you sell them for (even) $25,000 a piece.

“You could get $50,000 for one animal. That same animal today, (would sell for) maybe $5,000,” she added.

After recently acquiring a degree in security intelligence from Ferris State University, Turner said she plans to move where she can find a job in her field, which may mean leaving the animals behind.

“I love the animals. I can’t even imagine not having them, but I can’t do this and work (off the farm, in my field).”

For more inforamtion on Old Fields Farm, visit www.oldfieldsfarm.com.