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More than a pretty face

By Staff | Oct 31, 2014

A HUACAYA ALPACA peeks around a banner hung near its pen at the American Alpaca Showcase.

DES MOINES – Showing alpacas is about much more than their pretty faces, warm eyes and long lashes.

That lesson was clear when judges explained their choices for blue ribbon winners during the first-ever American Alpaca Showcase held Saturday and Sunday at the Iowa State Fairgrounds in Des Moines.

“You really want a luster to the fiber, especially in the Suri, so it will carry through to the yarn,” said Amanda VanderBosch, who served as a judge in one of the two rings set up for the event.

In general, alpacas should possess quality fiber, or fleece, a calm disposition and sound form, she said.

When considering these elements for the show, VanderBosch said she attributed more importance to the potential and condition of the fiber than physical conformation.

A HUACAYA alpaca from Rock Creek Alpacas near Camanche, relaxes in front of a bank of fans during Saturday’s American Alpaca Showcase.

After all, unlike its relative, the llama, that was bred as a beast of burden, the alpaca was bred specifically for its fiber, which is used for making knitted and woven items, such as blankets, sweaters, hats, gloves, scarves and a wide variety of textiles.

Good alpaca fiber is warmer than wool and is hypoallergenic, said Christian Davies, of C & M Acres in Maxwell.

He and his wife, Michelle Davies, show and raise both varieties of alpacas – the fuzzy teddy bear-like Huacaya and the dreadlock-wearing Suri.

The couple also operates a fiber mill, transforming fleece of all types into yarn, hold educational workshops for new owners, and they offer alpaca manure for fertilizer.

“They’re often called a ‘huggable investment,'” Davies said. “They’re considered more like expensive cats and dogs than they are traditional livestock.”

“They’re considered more like expensive cats and dogs than they are traditional livestock.” —Michelle Davies C&M?Acres, Maxwell

Showing alpacas takes a different approach than other large animals, like horses and cows. They enter the ring in pasture condition, he said, which means they require minimal to no grooming and they wear a plain halter.

Brushing the animals would break and ruin the fiber. Additionally, no expensive tack or flashy outfits are required since the focus is the fleece.

While preparations for showing may seem simple, Davies said, costs of registering and traveling to shows can be prohibitive.

Fees often include an amount for each of animals’ pens, as well as an additional amount per animal at the event.

Add to that, the cost of transportation and lodging and it can be expensive, especially if chasing ribbons isn’t a priority.

JUDGE AMANDA VANDENBOSCH, left, checks the condition of the fiber of a Suri alpaca being shown by Michelle Davies, of C & M Acres in Maxwell, during Saturday’s first-ever American Alpaca Showcase at the Iowa State Fairgrounds.

“Most people typically want the animals for their fiber,” Davies said.”They want to do something with the fiber, make something of it.

“They aren’t thinking of showing them.”

Of the 75 Iowa farms Davies said he personally knows about, only six other alpaca producers were at the show.

“This is a small show since it’s the first one,” he said. “There are probably about 300 animals here, but next year you’ll see 700.”

The other Iowa-based operations at the show included PacaLand, of Kelley; North River Alpacas, of Norwalk; Rusty Stars Alpacas, of Winterset; Rock Creek Alpacas, of Camanche; Irish Meadows Alpacas, of La Motte; and Loess Hills Alpacas, of Missouri Valley.

They pitted their animals against others raised on ranches and farms from Texas, Michigan, Illinois, Colorado, Kansas, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Missouri.

“Some markets are saturated,” said Darby Vannier, executive director of the Alpaca Owners’ Association Inc., of Lincoln, Nebraska, “but here in Iowa there is plenty of opportunity to get into the industry and make a contribution.”

The association oversees and regulates the show system across the United States, he said.

They ensure judges are well-trained and consistent, as well as acting as the body that certifies the shows.

The association also conducts the national conference, which was in Harrisburg, Virginia, this year.

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