People from crowded cities or suburbs often imagine how nice it would be to live in "the country"—to have open space, beautiful views, a bountiful garden, or maybe even farm animals. Six years ago, when Thomas and Connie Betts left their life in a Portland, Ore., suburb behind, they made that dream about country living come true.
Although the couple had an idea of how and where they wanted to live, the key to realizing that dream—which they have achieved as the owners of Cascade Alpacas of Oregon—came entirely by chance. In January 2004, while Thomas was working as an operations manager for the boating retailer West Marine, a customer came into the store and purchased several dozen dock lines. When Thomas asked the man how many boats he had, the customer explained that he was using the rope for his alpacas.
"What's an alpaca?" Thomas asked.
After relaying to Connie the man's story about alpaca ranching in Hood River, a rural community 70 miles east of Portland in the Cascade Mountain Range, she asked, "Does he make any money doing it?"
"He says he does," replied Thomas.
Intrigued, the Bettses started researching alpacas, which are llama-like farm animals native to the mountains of Peru. They searched the Internet, talked to alpaca owners, and attended a weekend seminar about alpacas. (To see alpacas in action, watch Jane Pauley's interview with Thomas and Connie Betts, above. To learn more about the animals, read "Alpacas Are Awesome.")
After feeling that they had done their homework, Thomas, then 50, and Connie, 51, took the leap. In July, barely six months after becoming aware of alpacas, the Bettses sold the house they had lived in for a dozen years and used the proceeds to buy a 6 ½-acre property and house in Hood River. That investment—and the purchase of seven alpacas, which were paid for by selling Thomas' beloved 41-foot racing sailboat—became a down payment on a new career and lifestyle. By year's end, Thomas quit his job in Portland, and Connie, a technical writer who could work from home, went part-time in hers. (For more about the economics of alpaca ranching and Thomas and Connie's venture read our Reality Check.)
Today, the Bettses' ranch, Cascade Alpacas of Oregon, consists of 50 alpacas, three barns, a yarn shop—called Foothills Yarn & Fiber—and, with the purchase of a neighboring property last year, a total of 15 acres and three houses. Two of those are used as rentals. (To Thomas and Connie's delight, one of those homes is occupied by their son, Reuben, 28, his wife, and their infant daughter; the Bettses' daughter, Sarah, lives in Northern California with her husband and two children.)
"All the stars aligned," Connie says about her own and Thomas' transformation from suburban commuters to ranchers. "Discovering alpacas, finding the property, the way my job was set up. It felt right to do."