Family spreading the alpaca love at Minnesota farm
"They picked us," says Mark Grimes, who runs Homestead Arts Farm in Pine Island with his wife, Lori Grimes, welcoming people to learn about their fuzzy friends.
PINE ISLAND, Minn. — Angel. Bentley. Cody. These aren’t the most popular baby names for the year, they are alpaca names at Homestead Arts Farm in Pine Island.
Each name matches the year they were born, from ABC to 123, with the business in its third year running as an alpaca farm and blacksmith shop.
Owners Lori and Mark Grimes say each alpaca has its own personality. The Grimeses welcome people to share in their excitement and learn about the fuzzy-fleeced creatures. As visitors travel up the hill and onto their 32 acres, the 24 alpacas peek up their curious heads.
Their alpaca lessons started in 2019 when the couple purchased four alpacas and some sheep to kick-start their life in the country. While Mark grew up on a farm in Iowa, Lori grew up in the Twin Cities with a great love for visiting the animals at the state fair. They moved to the Pine Island farm after years of Rochester living and owning a bike store, horse stables and a bakery.
“They picked us,” Mark joked about their alpaca ownership.
“We wanted it to be a place where people could come and learn different, new skills that they may not have taken somewhere else,” Lori said.
The Grimeses remain curious learners, and their goal is to share about alpacas with kids and adults through tours. In the future, they hope to lease alpacas for Goodhue County 4-H students.
The boys and girls have two separate fields. The newest alpacas born this summer, Cameo and Cody, love “ripping around” as best friends. Baby alpacas, or cria, double in weight in their first four weeks. A full-grown alpaca reaches around 150 pounds.
Alpacas are “very thrifty,” Mark described, as they eat less and are easy on the soil. But their personalities, gentle nature and soft fleece are the Grimes’ favorite traits.
“You can’t help but love them,” Lori said. “They’re sweet animals and they’re fun.”
“They’re very nice animals, they’re just peaceful,” Mark said. “And curious, they’ll come up to you when they’re ready. But you can sit out on a bench and sooner or later somebody will wonder up to you, look at you; but they’re not rambunctious at all.”
With more to learn, the Grimeses are working on more preventative care for their herd. The daily interactions of feeding, cleaning up alpaca stool, going for walks and eventually toenail clipping are part of “basic herdmanship.” Consistent care helps them understand the alpacas’ routines and spot if something is different.
“We’re very fussy about their care,” Lori said.
Of the world’s two types of alpacas, Mark and Lori raise huacayas, which is what about 90% of alpacas in the United States are. The suri, or shaggy-typed alpacas, are rarer but you can spot them at the Pauley Alpaca Company in Rochester.
“We like the teddy bears,” Mark said.
The fleece from both types are used for sweaters, socks, scarves; think fuzzy items you warm up with in the winter. The Grimeses raise their alpacas for this very reason, and by May the alpacas are thick with their own sweater. The fleece puffs up to about 4 inches from its current state of about an inch. The Alpaca Owners Association notes the fleece can weigh 5 to 10 pounds.
“Shearing day is exciting and chaotic and stressful for the animals,” Lori said. “Some of them do very, very well with it. We have a few that get pretty nervous.”
These are just a few of the lessons visitors learn on tours at Homestead Arts Farm. The tours are 90 minutes with time to visit, pet and walk the alpacas. If you’re looking to become friends with an alpaca, look them in the eye and touch their neck, not their head.
“We want it to be an educational time for them, and … concentrated time with the animal, walking with them and getting to know them,” Lori said.
An extended period of time is also offered as a sponsorship program, where adopted families receive a birth certificate, help care for the alpaca and can come to shearing day.
The people have been a “blessing” too, Mark and Lori said, from Airbnb Experiences to Harvest Hosts RV guests and families visiting. The Grimeses said people genuinely enjoy learning and coming for a peaceful experience, not just a selfie with the alpacas.
“(We) meet the nicest people, it’s just been fantastic. It’s been very rewarding. Everybody is real positive about it and happy. And I always guarantee them they’re going to learn stuff and they’re going to have fun,” Mark said about his blacksmith classes.
The blacksmith classes are run through Rochester Community Education on forging skills. They also plan to add felting and knitting classes. Both projects are items sold in their store along with alpaca-themed stuffed animals, socks, scarves, hats and yarn.
While their first few years open have been in the COVID-19 pandemic, people’s outdoor enjoyment worked in their favor. Lori said the farm’s tours started because of people’s interest.
“It actually helped start our tour business because we had people … that would get in touch with us and say, ‘Can we bring our grandkids out?’ People were looking for things to do. People were scared to go anywhere,” Lori said.
“I thought, ‘Yeah (the tours are) a good thing,’” Lori added. “People really enjoy it, they’re taking pictures of their kids with the animals.”
51085 165th Ave., Pine Island
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