2016 Alpacapalooza draws top alpacas, breeders for stiff competition
Annual event was held at Clark County Event Center
From The Reflector
By Natalie Johnson
Photos: Natalie Johnson
Glenn and Carolyn Waddell drove all the way from Reno, Nevada to attend their second Alpacapalooza at the Clark County Event Center last weekend.
After the long drive, their four alpacas tumbled all at once out of their trailer in excitement Friday morning. The Waddells started raising the animals for their fleece in 2009, but the animals, Carolyn Waddell said, have other benefits too.
“They’re very calming animals,” she said.
Visitors to Alpacapalooza held over the weekend at the Clark County Event Center in Ridgefield could get up close and personal with the expressive animals.
“They’re very cute and unique — that’s kind of the first thing that draws you to them,” said event manager Jeff Williamson. “The llamas aren’t cute like these guys. There’s not really many creatures out there like them.”
Alpacas shown at Alpacapalooza are not pets, many breeders emphasized. They’re the product of careful selective breeding to create the softest, most crimped fleece possible, and are raised for the annual harvest of that fleece.
That doesn’t mean their owners can’t be spotted lovingly talking to each of their alpacas in turn.
“They all have different personalities. It’s easy to get attached to some rather than others,” said Mary Miller, a judge and breeder from Aspen Alpaca Company at the event Friday.
Alpacapalooza is in its 17th year overall and its sixth at the Clark County Event Center. Each year, it’s organized by the Alpaca Association of Western Washington.
“I think we’re going to have around 300 alpacas this year,” Williamson said.
About the same number of alpacas participated last year, said Williamson, also the owner of Liberty Alpacas in Maple Valley.
“I think over the last few years it’s gone down a little with the economy,” he said. “There’s always the serious breeders.”
Washington and Oregon have the highest concentration of alpaca farms in the country, only behind Ohio, Williamson said.
“This kind of kicks off show season,” he said.
Alpaca show season lasts about two months. Then they all get haircuts.
Alpacas are shorn once a year — usually in May or June, so they don’t get too hot in the summer, Williamson said. Fans were set up all around the event center Friday to keep the animals cool.
“We show them in full fleece,” he said. “When we shear them, they’ll be naked, basically.”
The animals are raised primarily for that fleece, which Williamson said was “soft like cashmere, but warmer than wool.”
Alpaca fiber is also hypoallergenic because the animals do not produce lanolin.
“People who are allergic to wool can typically wear alpaca,” he said.
Two types of alpacas were on display at the event. Huacaya alpacas are the most common, with soft fleece growing away from their bodies like a cotton ball. Suri alpacas represent about 15 percent of all alpacas, and have fleece that grows in strands like dreadlocks, Williamson said.
At Alpacapalooza, animals are judged on a 60/40 ratio, Williams said. Sixty percent of their score is based on the alpaca’s “confirmation,” or the correctness of its stance and body. The other 40 percent comes from the quality of the alpaca’s fleece. Alpacas as young as six months can compete.
From a distance, alpaca fleece looks uneven and clumpy, but when the fleece is spread apart, you can see the soft, delicate crimped shape of each strand. The better the crimp, the higher the score.
“It’s a very competitive show,” Williamson said. “Some of the top breeders in the country are in the northwest.”
While judged partially on the appearance of their fleece, alpacas cannot be groomed before the show.
“They have to be in what’s called paddock condition,” Miller said.
Breeders can pick big pieces of hay and alfalfa off their animals, and clean under their tails, but can’t do any serious grooming.
Breeders also came from as far away as California, Utah and Nevada to show their animals.
The competition isn’t just about walking away with ribbons and prizes.
“I think it kind of gets your farm name known,” said Dean Hiestand, of Fiber Meadows Alpacas in Sedro Woolley. “It gives you a yardstick of how to judge where your breeding program is.”