When they moved to the country from Ypsilanti’s Depot Town ten years ago, the couple wanted to use their ten acres productively. As a knitter, Heinrichs knew that alpacas’ high-quality wool was comparable to the finest cashmere. Croasdill was happy to learn that the animals are valued alive, for their coats and breeding potential, instead of as meat. So they christened their property the Ann Arbor Alpaca Farm and bought three of the small South American ruminants. Forty-two alpacas later, the herd’s paying for itself.
Despite the quality of domestically grown alpaca wool, the market for it is weak—low-priced imports from China have taken over this sector, too. Heinrichs uses their wool herself to make a small collection of hand-spun products, and they also sell to crafters who appreciate native-grown fibers. But most of their farm’s income comes from selling breeding animals to other people who want to start their own herds. They’ve been selling about six per year for anywhere from $500 to $20,000 each. But Croasdill admits, “It was a little tough last year. . . . The downturn in the economy has affected things.”
Alpacas don’t pay all of the couple’s bills. Heinrichs continues to work as an office manager, and Croasdill does consulting and web design on a flexible schedule that lets him devote about three hours a day to the animals as needed. Fortunately, they’re low maintenance. “All they really want is grass,” he says. His major task is hauling manure to the compost pile, where in time it becomes grass fertilizer. “We farm grass,” he laughs. “We raise alpacas.”