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This weekend is your chance to learn all you want to know about alpacas. Visit Pat and Dawn Devney at their farm, 5744 212th St. For more on the alpaca farm tour visit www.explorealpacas.com. Nathan Hansen/Independent

They're becoming alpaca evangelists

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When Pat and Dawn Devney bought their first alpacas in 2004 they were looking for a pet. They'd seen the South American pack animals at the Minnesota State Fair and thought they were cute. So they bought a few.

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Five years later, the animals are earning their keep. The couple sells yarn made from their animals' fleece and has opened a small shop on their porch to sell products made from alpaca hair. They've started breeding the animals, and they might start selling them soon.

The family still grows corn and raises beef cattle, but alpacas are becoming a bigger part of the business. This weekend the family will participate in the Alpaca Farm Tour, two days in which alpaca farms around the country will open their operations to the outside and try to teach the world a little something about alpacas.

You started out with alpacas just for fun.

D: Just to have as pets.... Then just three years ago we added females. We started to get into breeding and have some babies. We thought that would be a lot of fun.

P: And it has been.

D: It has been a blast. We've had the three babies.

Was it like when you got them the first time, you thought it would be fun to have them? And then you thought, "Let's breed some, that will be fun, too"?

D: Yep. That's more the business part of it. You've got to mix the business part with the fun part.

When you started breeding was the thought it was going to be a business?

D: Yes. When you're breeding, the females are more expensive.

What was it that appealed to you?

D: The babies. Just the babies because they are way cute.

It's a business plan basically built on cuteness.

D: Yeah, basically. Cuteness and fun.

P: People just like them.

D: A little profit is always nice. We haven't gotten that big to where it's a big profit.

So you're making at least a little money?

D: Yeah. We're making a little money, which is always good.

When you started breeding did you get into the alpaca products at the same time?

D: We did. We started doing that and we started selling the yarn. And then we order supplies from villages down in Peru and they make, for a bunch of alpaca people, I suppose, gloves and hats and mittens and socks and stuff.

So, the alpaca business is good for you?

D: It's good enough. It's about what we expected. We're very small.

Obviously it's not the biggest part of what you're doing.

P: Not the biggest part.

D: But by far the funnest. It is the funnest. Pat's a great barn manager.

P: A poop picker-upper.

D: He's good at that.

What is it you like about them? Is it just the cuteness factor?

D: Always that. They're just nice to be around. They're very gentle. The grandkids have fun with them. The grandkids are now bringing their friends over to see them.

You mentioned the farm tour. What is that?

D: The farm tour is the national farm tour. It is the last weekend of September. from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. All the alpaca farms ... nationwide are opening their farms for open houses for anyone who's interested in looking at alpacas, learning about them. We always hope to interest someone into starting their own farm. For sales of the animals. We will be getting to that soon. So if you see a sign out there that says Alpacas for sale it doesn't mean we're shutting down or anything. We still love our alpacas but we can probably only comfortably maintain 10 animals here. We're going to get to that limit real soon. We'll start selling a couple off here and there.

What will you do? Will you have anything special, or will it just be, come in and ask us about our alpacas?

D: That's about it. We're not that crafty or anything. We'll see if we can get a spinner here that day.... See the new baby that we have. She's being bottle fed.

Why do you want to participate?

D: Pat and I, it's our first year and they've been doing it for six years. There's been a lot of interest. We see a lot of people stop by the side of the road. Some people do pull in. A lot of people call us to say, can they schedule something to come out.

P: It's an opportunity for everybody to come out and take a look.

D: There are other farms in the area. There's a big farm in Cannon Falls. There's another farm in Northfield. There's another farm in Vermillion and another big farm in Prior Lake. So, on the web site explorealpacas.com they'll have all the farm information. That will show directions and stuff. A lot of farms are having big things going on.

Everything's free unless you want to buy products. Or alpacas. People like to talk about their farms, so it's a fun thing to do that way.

Do you have other big plans for the future of alpacas here?

D: No. Not really. This is about as big as we can get. Pat still likes to grow corn.

P: And raise cattle.

Corn is much less cute.

D: This is about as far as well get on here.

P: We at one time thought about making a larger area for selling products. I suppose that would be the only expansion we'd do right now. Anything you do isn't cheap, though.

D: we do have the little store in the porch though. It's very small but it's got the socks, which are a huge hit. And the ladies' hats. I can't keep them in stock hardly.

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