Young couple growing North Dakota alpaca farm
GALCHUTT, N.D.-When Dirk and Jessie Monson moved to a 5-acre farm here, about 30 minutes south of the conveniences of Fargo, their friends joked, "You should get an alpaca!"Two years later, they're running one of just two registered alpaca-breedi...
GALCHUTT, N.D.-When Dirk and Jessie Monson moved to a 5-acre farm here, about 30 minutes south of the conveniences of Fargo, their friends joked, "You should get an alpaca!"
Two years later, they're running one of just two registered alpaca-breeding operations in the state.
"We're small, but we're mighty," Jessie said on an overcast afternoon in the farmyard of Ten Seven Acres. "We're building."
The young couple's herd of 11 adult alpacas, three babies (called "cria") and one llama is split into two smaller groups. They keep the herd sires, Einstein and Cash, with the females rather than separate them, a practice unique to only a few alpaca ranches in the U.S.
"By doing so, it slowly lowers their aggression," Dirk explained on a break from his job as a marketing manager for a telecommunications company a short drive away in Abercrombie. "It seems to make them happier, they seem to be friendlier. The males are a lot easier to handle. I think it creates an interesting dynamic."
Jessie pointed to Sprinkles the llama to explain the difference between alpacas and llamas, both domesticated members of the camelid family. Llamas are bigger-almost twice the size-and their heads and ears are shaped differently. Sprinkles stands out with her scooped "banana ears," and her height towers over the others'.
The cria, a little more interested in visitors than the others, frolic in the pens with their mothers. The newest, Odie (short for Odysseus) wears a little red "jacket" to help keep him warm. Fans will remember him from the last Red River Market of the season, where he stole the show with his mom, Katie.
The extra precaution is necessary for fall babies, whose natural coats aren't yet thick enough to keep them warm. Dirk said the adults, however, will be plenty warm by the time winter settles in. Yes, even in rural North Dakota.
"By the time the snow starts flying, they'll have 4 to 6 inches of fiber, so it'd be a lot like if I put on a wool peacoat and six sweaters," he said.
When Dirk and Jessie shear their alpacas in the spring, they can get 5 to 10 pounds of fiber off each one. Jessie then processes it into yarn at Dakota Fiber Mill in Kindred, where she works part time in addition to her own farm work.
"Usually, if you have about 2 pounds of fiber, you can get about 10 skeins, or 150 yards of yarn," she said.
The yarn, which they sell on their Etsy page and at an occasional market, varies from thin to thick and is available in its natural color or dyed. Susan's fiber, for instance, creates a nice rose-gray.
All but one of the Ten Seven Acres alpacas are huacayas (pronounced "wah-KI-ah"), a breed with fluffy, crimpy fleece that gives them a teddy-bear-like look. Suris (pronounced "SOO-ree") grow longer, silkier fleece. According to the Alpaca Owners Association, 90 percent of alpacas are huacaya.
The camelids share the farm with Jessie's retired racing horses, Ten Carrot Jewel and Spectrin Seven (who, along with the farm's address, inspired its name), Fred the Mini Horse, who has his own Facebook fan page, 35 chickens and roosters and nine ducks.
In addition to its alpaca operation, the farm is licensed by the state to sell its chicken and duck eggs. Most of the chicken eggs go to private consumers, and the duck eggs, which are a little bigger and richer in taste, are sold to restaurants in Fargo and West Fargo.
Inside the 1938 farmhouse as a light rain started to fall outside, toy fox terrier Moose made it clear he's in charge. His pal German shepherd mix Denaro, who joined the operation in March, acts as the "security guard" for the other animals.
Dirk, a "city kid at heart," said neither he nor his wife ever expected to get into agriculture, but they're glad they did.
"We always joked that we'd rather have a million stories than a million dollars when we retire," he said. "Alpaca ranching makes for a good story. We'd say this is a pretty good start to the book."