But the greatest profits are often from the sale of alpaca babies, called "crias," and the Bettses say this has been the case for them.The couple also make money from stud fees (the male they named Royal Dutchis a prize winner in high demand) and from boarding animals.Those boarded alpacas are typically owned in full or in part by people who want make money from selling the fleece or crias but who can't or don't want to care for the animals.
Most alpaca ranches provide supplemental income. "You can't just live on alpacas alone," says Thomas. "Raising alpacas is not a get-rich-quick scheme." The Bettses have 50 alpacas, but most of the ranchers they associate with have 20 or less. "If you want to fully replace one of the incomes in your family, you need to do something else to bring in money, for the first several years at least, while the herd is building up," says Connie.
For Thomas and Connie, that "something else" is their yarn shop, Foothills Yarn & Fiber. And because the ranch is featured on the Hood River County Fruit Loop, a 35-mile scenic drive of the region's orchards, wineries, ranches, and forests, Cascade Alpacas of Oregon welcomes a steady stream of tourists. (Tourists and readers might recognize the Bettses—and their alpacas—from their cameo appearance in an American Express commercial that began airing last month.)
Alpaca ranchers also import and sell clothing made from the fiber; others specialize in such skills as shearing, roving, spinning, and weaving. Some owners work as transporters or handlers, bringing alpacas to competitions, and, since alpacas are not artificially inseminated, chaperoning female alpacas to a stud's ranch for a "date."
The Bettses are thrilled by their decision to raise alpacas. They love the rural lifestyle, the serenity of the animals, and the balance of being able to have both a steady income (Connie's) and their own business (which is operated on a daily basis by Thomas). The Bettses also know that because alpacas are so gentle and easy to care for, they are a suitable late-in-life career or hobby.
When asked what's not great about alpacas, Connie and Thomas Betts are silent. They can't think of anything. When prodded, Connie says, "Oh, I know, they can only have one baby a year." But with that one baby, which gestates for 11½ months, alpaca mothers are extremely considerate maternity patients who rarely need medical assistance for deliveries.
"They give birth between 7:30 in the morning and 2 in the afternoon," notes Connie, explaining that in the mountain wilds, alpaca offspring need to be born when there is enough sunlight to dry them before the night's freezing temperatures set in. "We never have to stand around in a cold barn at 3 in the morning."