Alpaca farm to welcome public

Published 10:24 am Monday, September 20, 2010

Ed Schlede holds a baby alpaca that was born Thursday evening. Schlede has had alpacas for about 10 years. -- Kelli Lageson/Albert Lea Tribune

Alpacas of Oak Knoll Farms in Albert Lea will participate in National Alpaca Farm Days on Sept. 25 and 26. Public is invited to see the farm and meet the alpacas.

From 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on those days guests can see alpacas up close, ask questions and see fiber-spinning demonstrations. The farm has about 67 alpacas.

Jean and Ed Schlede of Alpacas of Oak Knoll Farms pose near their best-selling item, alpaca socks. Ed said there are many repeat customers for the socks because of their warmth. -- Kelli Lageson/Albert Lea Tribune

“We get about 400 to 500 people here,” farm owner Ed Schlede said.

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Ed and his wife, Jean, said the free two-day open house helps the public see what they do. The Schledes sell alpacas to people all over the United States and also sell goods made from alpaca fur in a store next to their home. They sell their alpacas through various websites and at shows across the state.

“The fiber is pretty unique,” Ed said. “Pound for pound, it’s three times warmer than wool.”

Ed also said the fiber from alpacas doesn’t itch like wool, and can be made into sweaters, blankets, coats or their most popular product — socks.

“We have a lot of repeat customers,” Ed said. “Outdoor people appreciate a warm sock.”

Alpacas don’t require as much space as other animals and handle cold weather well, according to Ed. He said they only eat grass or hay. Ed also said horses need about an acre of land each to live on, while eight to 10 alpacas can comfortably live on one acre.

Just a few of the 67 alpacas at Alpacas of Oak Knoll Farms graze the lawn. Alpaca fur has as many as 22 colors that can be made into various clothing items or blankets. -- Kelli Lageson/Albert Lea Tribune

Ed said sheep wool costs about 20 to 30 cents per pound, while alpaca fur is worth two to four dollars an ounce.

As they are shearing the animals they collect the fur into bags and put a piece of paper in the bag with the name of the alpaca they sheared so they know which animal it came from. The alpacas are sheared each spring and then grow enough fur before winter starts again.

“We send some fiber to a small mill near Hastings where it gets made into yarn,” Ed said. “A lot of people like that the fur is natural.”

They keep the fur separated because there are so many different colors and when making yarn the colors shouldn’t be mixed. There are as many as 22 different colors of fur. Ed said interest in alpacas is increasing, and the animals have only been in the U.S. since the late 80s.

“Alpacas are becoming very popular for small farms,” Ed said.

Alpacas weigh about 150 pounds and are around 38 inches tall when fully grown. Ed and Jean agreed that the animals are gentle as well. Previously, Ed worked at Ventura Foods for more than 30 years and said raising alpacas was something easy to do after he retired.

Ed said the National Alpaca Farm Days first started in Minnesota when a group of farms did farm tours, and three years ago it started as a national event. The Schledes also attend a large fair in Owatonna each spring with farms from all over the Midwest.

How to contact Alpacas of Oak Knoll Farms

Phone: 507-202-2077



Address: 1650 Hammer Road, Albert Lea