Duluthian discovers passion for alpacas
Back in 2000, Loni Blumerich started thinking about her retirement. She was divorced and working for a nonprofit that she knew wouldn’t cover her living expenses when she retired.
She had always thought about starting a home-based business. She loved going to craft shows to look at spun yarn. She briefly considered raising sheep and selling the wool.
“But I’m allergic to wool and most other farm animals too, like horses and cows,” Blumerich said. “I wasn’t sure if I’d find something that would work with this idea I had in my head.”
Blumerich found the answer during a visit to her doctor’s office in 2003. The only magazine on the waiting room table was a ranch magazine which had a story about an Ohio family who ran an alpaca farm. Alpacas are hypoallergenic, or less likely than most animals to cause an allergic reaction in humans.
“I thought this couldn’t be true. So I went online and found information about an alpaca show in Green Bay, drove there and met some alpacas,” Blumerich said. “I had to figure out if I was allergic to them. Nope. No reaction whatsoever. So the seed was planted.”
At the time, Blumerich lived in a small house in Duluth Heights. She’d never lived on a farm, let alone raised alpacas.
First she did research, visiting various alpaca shows, reading books and talking with alpaca farmers. Then she needed to find a space. She found a house on Maple Grove Road with enough acreage to allow 30-plus alpacas to roam. Finally, she found an unexpected business partner … and husband.
In their youth, Blumerich and Horst Blumerich were teenage sweethearts who met in Horst’s home country, Germany. The two went their separate ways when they were 18, but Blumerich said she kept thinking of him. After her divorce, her mother encouraged Blumerich to send Horst a message wishing him a happy birthday.
“We’ve been together ever since,” Blumerich said. “He left his entire life in Germany behind to come here. His first time here, I had just moved into this house and I told him my dream for the alpacas and he loved it. He said, let’s do it. So here we are, all these years later with 30 alpacas.”
Frosty Ridge Alpacas started in 2007 with six alpacas purchased from an alpaca farm in southern Minnesota. The two pregnant females and four geldings stayed in the garage as Blumerich had yet to build the barn.
Ten years later the farm has 30 alpacas, including three boarded or agist alpacas and two more on the way, with two females set to give birth in June. Chickens wander the pastures calmly with the alpacas.
“Chickens will eat insects and worms that can adversely affect alpacas,” Blumerich said. “At the same time, the chickens are scratching through the alpaca poop pile and helping the compost. And the chickens add fertilizer to the field and don’t bother the alpacas at all.”
Blumerich said the alpacas are relatively low-maintenance. They graze on grass or hay in the winter with an additional cup of grain to add nutrients. They are fairly easy to clean up after because they poop in a communal pile.
Blumerich and Horst spend about an hour a day cleaning, feeding and mucking the barn. Otherwise they work full time for the postal service and Walmart, respectively. The couple has one day off, Sunday, when they play catch-up on chores around the farm and allow interested individuals to visit the farm and gift shop.
Once a year, the alpacas must be shorn of their fleece. Blumerich said the alpacas keep their fleece for two years in their native land of South America.
“But it gets too warm up here in the summer for them to keep their fleece,” Blumerich said. “As it is now, we’re out there several days for a couple of weeks, hosing them down and keeping them cool.”
Once shorn, Blumerich sends the fleece, individually labeled with the alpaca’s name, to a spinner in North Dakota to turn it into yarn. On each skein of yarn Blumerich attaches a label with the name and photo of the alpaca from which the fleece originated.
“I like to know whose fiber it is that I’m working with,” Blumerich said. “Then the folks who come in can see the names and see the specific alpaca. It’s just a personal touch.”
The annual shearing is open to the public for the first time this year on May 25 at Frosty Ridge Alpacas at 6059 Maple Grove Rd. The shearing runs 8 a.m. to about 5 p.m. The farm and shop is also open most Sundays. Call Loni and Horst Blumerich at (218) 341-2994 for more information.