BEULAH — An alpaca isn’t the first farm animal that comes to mind in northern Michigan, but a large herd of the gentle animals are making their mark in rural Benzie County.
The Crystal Lake Alpaca Farm is located between Frankfort and Beulah at 4907 River Road, less than a half-mile from Gwen Frostic Prints. Chris and David Nelson own the 145-acre property that is home to more than 45 alpacas, as well as the Crystal Lake Alpaca Boutique and two herding Great Pyrenees, Banner and Naomi.
The Nelsons have lived in Benzie County for 22 years; they relocated to northern Michigan from Indiana to open the Platte Lake Veterinary Clinic in Honor, where David is a veterinarian. They decided to begin raising alpacas 12 years ago.
Today, Chris oversees a very busy business of raising, breeding, boarding, selling and showing champion alpacas.
“This is a business. We are a working farm, with 24/7 upkeep,” she said, and added the entire family has been involved over the years, including adult children Stephen, Michael and Andrea. They specialize in selective breeding and are committed to raising healthy, quality Huacaya alpacas.
“This is the fastest-growing livestock industry in the United States,” Nelson said of national efforts to increase the U.S. alpaca population, produce animals with excellent fiber and improve the herd through breeding.
Nelson’s herd produces an average of 11 babies or crias each year that usually are sold to other farms. Several of their offspring helped start new alpaca farms.
“Right now, the money is in breeding and selling … and producing excellent fiber,” she said.
Additional revenue is earned through manufacturing the fleece, boarding and boutique shop sales. They recently began selling alpaca manure for gardening.
“We are able to turn a profit, but we’ve worked very hard for 12 years to get here,” Nelson said. “There were times when we thought, ‘what are we doing?’”