When Pat Mujica first saw alpacas at a Missouri auction he thought they were simply cuddly and adorable. Then he heard how much they were selling for and realized the llama-like animals presented his family with a great investment opportunity.
Mujica and his parents, Patricio and Veronica, bought a pair of pregnant females in 2002 and since then their farm, near Agency in northwest Missouri _ a region more accustomed to cattle _ has grown to become home to more than 70 alpacas.
And the Mujicas are not alone.
According to the Midwest Alpaca Owner and Breeder's Association, the Mujica's farm is just one of 81 properties raising alpacas in Missouri and Kansas.
"In this area, you see more and more Alpaca farms cropping up," Mujica said, describing the animals as "cute, cuddly things."
The animals, native to the Andes, are prized for their wool. The Mujicas have a national fleece champion among their herd and are focusing on raising high-quality young _ known as cria _ which can sell for thousands of dollars at auction.
Another local success story, Diana Howard, went into alpaca farming when her husband died.
"After he was gone, I realized that I needed something I could handle on my own," Howard said. "I looked at sheep and goats, and then came across a magazine in Tractor Supply that talked about alpacas. That got me started because they were cute and fuzzy and all the traditional reasons that you might fall in love with them."
With no experience as a farmer, Howard and her son volunteered at other farms for a couple of days to learn the basics _ including how to shear.
"I don't have an ag (agricultural) background," she said. "This was all very new to me."
The volunteering paid off.
"We both came out of it even more enthused. Yeah, there's hard work, but there's a lot of reward and payoff, too" Howard said. From four females and two males in 2006, she now has 27 alpacas, including some rescue animals.
Both farmers espouse alpaca farming not just as a livelihood, but as a way of life _ one that neither could easily give up.
"When you have a rough day, you can get out your lawn chair, come out here and watch the little guys bouncing around in the fields," said Mujica. "The juveniles are like little kids. They're spunky, they get to hopping around like Bambi, in synchronization across the field. They're adorable."
Information from: St. Joseph News-Press.