Les Meyette didn’t always dream of becoming an alpaca farmer, but when serendipity brought him together with Tim and Jane Talbott, founders and owners of the Grand Alpaca Company, he saw not only a business opportunity but a chance to create a life he loves.
As Les was studying business management courses in college, Tim and Jane were looking to sell their farm and retire. After completing a business plan based on alpacas for a class and meeting the Talbott’s in person, the wheels were in motion for Les and his family to carry on the Grand Alpaca Company and start a new chapter of their lives.
Since 2014, Les and his family have dedicated their time and efforts to improving and expanding their farm, growing their alpaca herd while growing closer and more connected with the fiber farmers in the region.
Alpacas, once a niche market for wealthy hobby farmers, are a growing industry. Their fiber is hypoallergenic, water-resistant, warmer than wool, and fire retardant. As they looked to the future at the Grand Alpaca Company, however, they saw some challenges.
“When we went to take things to the next level, we found that the coop system wasn’t working for us.” Les and the Grand Alpaca Company found that the wait times for processing the fiber he collected from his alpaca herd during the spring harvesting season were too long to allow for him to grow his business effectively.
“We either needed to get out completely or have the fiber turned into something. So we saw a huge need in our market for the machinery to process the fiber into yarn or other products.”
Les saw a need for his own business and the gap in the fiber market, and seized on the opportunity to expand what their farm is capable of by learning to shear himself and, with the support of Northern Initiatives, acquiring the equipment and expertise to process fiber themselves. They can now process the fiber of their own herd, and plan to offer this service to other farmers as well.
“We get calls every day, everyone is excited about it, especially here in Michigan.” Because of the cost of shearing and the lack of processing facilities, Les found that farmers would often end up giving away or even discarding their fiber. “We saw an opportunity for farms to recoup the money they have into the animals.”
With the new machinery, Les and his team will be able to process fiber from “sheep, alpaca and potentially goats and rabbits” with support from the resources he discovered through Northern Initiatives.
“When I looked at the Northern Initiatives website, I could see they were there to help. They have all the resources you could need. And they prove it every day, including today…helping me with my logo and website. The support has been phenomenal.”
Les and the Grand Alpaca Company plan to spend the winter preparing for the spring harvest and getting their systems up and running for processing animal fiber on site. With continued collaborations with Northern Initiatives, Les is working on improving Grand Alpaca’s branding and marketing and planning for 2020.
Grand Alpaca Company Impacts:
- Jobs Created: 2 full-time, 1 part-time