Archive for the ‘Information for Alpaca Breeders’ Category

It’s been a while.

This has been a year of travel and change for me and it’s taken me all this time to carve out some time to come back to what I love, which is writing, talking, and showing alpacas. I can’t promise I’ll be blogging as regularly as previously but when I run across something that gets me excited, I’ll be back here at the keyboard – and hoping you will all still find things here that make you feel the same.

Four pocket Cardi from the Gap

Four Pocket Cardi at Gap.com (35% alpaca , $54.50)

I’ve been doing quite a bit of shoptherapy this year. I won’t go into why but needless to say, it’s not my norm. Mall is a four letter word to me and online shopping is a wonderful convenience but never a drug. But something caught my eye when I got my last Land’s End catalog – they actually offered a sweater line called “Lightheart” that was made with part alpaca.

Alpaca Blend Cardigan at J.Jill

Alpaca Blend Cardigan at JJill.com (alpaca and acrylic, $119)

Land’s End a.k.a. Sears – big retail. So when I saw alpaca blend sweaters at both the Gap and J.Jill , I couldn’t help but think – alpaca is going mainstream. That’s both good and bad : good because it may introduce the unique and luxury qualities of alpaca to many more people, bad because the pricing reflected does not promote that luxury niche. Alpaca composes a relatively small percentage in each of the sweaters offered, offset with cheaper fibers. It’s unknown what grade was used and in some cases, what that percentage is.

Still, I think it’s pretty amazing to see even a limited number of sweater offerings at such big names. Because those big names mean big volume and inventory. Now that I’ve seen these pop up without even looking, I bet with a little more searching and googling, I will find alpaca inserted into more collections everywhere, and perhaps (hopefully) into those high end designer offerings that will showcase the handle and draping qualities that distinguish alpaca fiber as haute couture suitable.

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Tourists evacuated from Machu Picchu end of January after heavy rains left them stranded. The tourist site will remain closed off for at least the next couple of months. ((AP Photo/Martin Mejia) (Martin Mejia - AP)

I just got back in from plowing the driveway after our latest snowfall. It took me all of about 45 minutes to clear, putzing around on our garden tractor. It’s not a chore I love, but it’s part of winter here in Colorado. And this year I think I’d have to give the snow trophy to the Mid-Atlantic for all that the Rocky Mountains have the rep for endless white winters.

And then I see this article about the Andean alpacas and how the heavy rains are impacting alpaca farmers. Resulting mudslides have washed homes away and left people with little closer to nothing. Bronchial pneumonia is felling young crias and threatening their main source of income.

CHU (Containerized Housing Unit)

This week I received an email from a former co-worker of mine. He was deployed this past month to Iraq as an officer on the team working on Iraqi training. He sent a picture of where he was living, called a CHU (containerized housing unit), which looked like a metal box dropped down in a spot with one opening carved out for a door. It looked like that because that’s what it was. But he was thankful, because he had a wet-CHU – one that had a shower, versus a dry-CHU, which doesn’t. Rows and rows of these CHU’s make up “CHU-ville” which looks eerily similar to District 9 (if you’ve seen the film of the same name).

So what are Colorado snow, heavy rain in the Andes, and a CHU in Iraq doing in the same blog post? Let’s just say that as I grumbled my way back in from the snow, shaking off my wet shoes and peeling off my Carhartt’s, they all flashed through my brain to remind me just how good I have it. My alpacas are all tucked away safe and sound in the barn, munching contentedly away, and I’m on my way to a hot shower in my own wet-CHU. I’m blessed and sometimes it’s good to be reminded of that now and then.

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American Royal Complex (from http://www.americanroyal.com)

At long last, the AOBA Nationals will be returning to the West …sort of. To be more precise, the 2011 show will be at the American Royal in Kansas City, Missouri which is actually the Midwest. When looked on at a map, it falls just a little to the east if you were to draw a north-south line cutting the U.S. in half.

But who’s quibbling?

For Coloradoans such as myself, the location is handclapping, footstomping convenient. One long but easy day of driving or a short 2 hour direct flight into Kansas City International Airport. Mopaca will hold its Invitational Show at the American Royal for the second time in 2010. The venue is old in an equally (ahem) historic part of town but its website states plans to expand and renovate. It’s only five minutes from downtown and about 30 minutes from the airport. It certainly doesn’t have the glamor or pristine newness that the Sandy, UT Expo center has but then I’m betting it won’t have the same cost either. Combined with previous plans announced to separate out the AOBA annual conference from the show and thereby decrease attendance costs significantly, the 2011 Nationals could see a serious uptick in attendance.


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Now that's paddock condition

There have always been breeders who blanket their huacaya alpacas to keep them clean for shows. Some are a bit better than others at blending in the line around the neck where the blanket ends and sometimes there is just no masking the abrupt change in color. But make no mistake, blanketing has been around for years.

At last November’s Fall Fest, the topic came up for discussion among exhibitors as one prominent breeder was proclaiming its benefits in enabling their alpacas to show at their best. They did go on to place highly or win their classes. So did blanketing help? And more importantly, is blanketing a violation of an animal being shown in “paddock condition”?

I do not blanket my animals, but I do indulge in wishful thinking that they might stop rolling in hay, mud, and sand of their own volition. So when I heard that the idea of blanketing had reared its head again, I had an instant negative reaction, similar to the breeders standing around me.

“Won’t do it.”
“No way.”
“Unnatural…like trimming.”
“Should be banned from shows.”

But after a bit of thought, I decided to approach this more rationally and think about what questions really had to be answered in considering blanketing as a tool for competition:

1. Does it actually improve an animal’s placement?
2. Is it harmful to the animal?
3. Does it present the animal in an unnatural condition and therefore a violation of the spirit of the show rules?

I spoke to a senior AOBA judge and she adamantly refuted that blanketing would influence the placement of the animal. Although the staple may be cleaner, she told me judges know to assess fleece at the skin, where it is clean.

Next up was my vet. As a full-time camelid vet for over a decade, she did not feel that it caused any harm to the animal. One breeder in Colorado had blanketed their show string and experienced cases of rickets; however, she felt this was because they were heavily fleeced down on the belly (logically, their show string was their most heavily fleeced animals). As sunlight only works its benefits on the bare skin of alpacas, she felt it was this fleece that caused the rickets, not the blanketing (which covers only the blanket and part of the neck). Her recommendation? A regular AD&E shot schedule.

Now to the question of “natural condition”. Trimming, as we all know, is an illegal practice for show animals but continues to be done, much to the ire of eagle-eyed breeder spectators. What about blanketing? Is a blanketed animal still “paddock condition”? At first, I felt instinctively that it was not – but then I thought about it again. If an alpaca’s blanket is clean, then couldn’t you argue that it is in its real natural condition, with all the detrimental environmental influences removed? Unlike trimming, everything that is revealed by blanketing is 100% natural. Looking at the sheep industry, blanketing is a well-accepted practice for show animals.

So what’s my conclusion?

My rational self has concluded that there is absolutely nothing wrong with it. It doesn’t violate show rules, it doesn’t create an artificial attribute that an animal might not have, it doesn’t hurt the alpacas, and I have to have faith in the judges.

My emotional self still balks at any idea of keeping my animals in blankets. Sure, they get used to it, but I just don’t want to do it. And even though it does not violate show rules, I just know I’d feel rather shamefaced about it. Therefore, I have to face the fact that the only reason I don’t want other people to do it is because my competitive streak doesn’t want them to hold any advantage over me, whether real or imagined. Shame on me – because I enjoy showing and when I allow that enjoyment to be driven by ribbon-winning…well, then I’ve doomed myself to have my weekend mood determined by an AOBA judge.

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Sara Jane MacLennan and Diana Timmerman consult as the next class lines up to enter the ring

Last night I had a joyous reunion after a tiring weekend away at the A-OK Alpaca Blastoff in Shawnee, OK. But not with my husband (though I was happy to see him). My own pillow, my Select Comfort mattress, my Sonicare toothbrush, and my hot shower with actual measureable water pressure… all these gave me a joyous welcome home. Because that’s really the hard part of alpaca shows away – the endless stream of rather mediocre hotels when you’re at your stinkiest, most tired, and crankiest. At the end of the day, the exhilaration of showing is draining away and the grittiness in your eyes and the throbbing of your feet move to the forefront. You’re starved and dehydrated and any thoughts of healthy eating go out the window in the face of a quick solution in the form of a burger and fries.

Yep…it’s absolutely addictive. And why I keep going.

As for this show, it’s really amazing how quickly the Blastoff has grown. In just two years, it’s now a Level IV halter show, though the fleece show is still at Level I. The growing pains from such rapid increase in attendance were in evidence this past weekend. The show started late due to last minute rescheduling and by the end of Saturday, we were only through the brown female huacayas, with Sunday starting off with brown males. Everyone was worried. How would we finish Sunday without getting permission to reshuffle the load between the two judges?

As most showgoers know, such reshuffling is most often not allowed, as Exhibitor Disclosures and judges’ contracts are rather prescriptive. But in this case, approval from AOBA was apparently acquired and a rather confusing shift of color and gender classes were moved from Sara Jane MacLennan to Diana Timmerman. That left exhibitors running as the show list no longer reflected the order in each of the two rings. Not that anyone objected. Despite the rescheduling, the halter show still ran past five p.m. on Sunday.

Diana Timmerman Judging in Ring Two

So the Blastoff is a little show no longer. I feel sure that the lessons from this year will only lead to a better show in 2011. I have to congratulate the organizers for keeping cool heads. Cool heads are great, because most of the time, I’m running around with mine cut off. I had only five animals to show in what turned out to be ten classes, so I was hopping and the announcer was my lifeline. I showed only in front of Sara Jane and found her to be thorough and methodical. Interesting to note, she commented on which animals were blanketed and how that did not affect placements. I also noticed a strong bias to fineness as the dominant decision point in placements. Whether you greet those observations with approval or censure depends on your own breeding goals. I didn’t find reason to complain and enjoyed seeing Colorado breeders in action as judges.

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The National Western Stock Show kicks off this weekend in Denver. It’s been running annually here since 1906. Although I’d paid passing attention to it in the news, I’d never been one of the faithful attendees and, until alpacas, never had livestock to pull me there.

I think it was three years ago (give or take) that Alpaca Breeders of the Rockies (ABR) got alpacas into the NWSS. Huge exposure for alpaca breeders , not only to people interested in livestock but to people in other livestock industries that were perhaps less lucrative than alpacas. But some alpaca breeders, like me, were concerned about exposure to other species. This year, thanks to the continuous efforts of certain tireless ABR members, alpacas will be present on the first weekend so they’ll be the first livestock to inhabit their pens. Besides talking about alpacas, breeders will get to show their animals and also sell finished products.

This is all great stuff and great opportunity. I have yet to participate at the NWSS but progress each year makes me think about it more and more. Besides the concern about disease exposure, I also tend to be barely recovered from the holidays by the times NWSS begin, still gasping from the rush and activity of Christmas. Luckily for we alpaca breeders, the tireless volunteers that drive ABR forward are not so easily exhausted.

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The International Alpaca Odyssey (IAO) was the first and, for a long time, the only alpaca show in the U.S. to judge by International Show Rules, using a three judge panel and the heavier scoring weight for fleece assessment. Now, they’re shaking things up again with the proposal of new show rules, which will be in effect at the IAO 2010.

The new show rules are drastically different from AOBA or International Show Rules. So much so that it will take several readings for me to truly decide what I think of them. At the very surface, the first difference that will strike you is the proposal that breeding programs (as evidenced by the animals in competition) be assessed based on whether they are producing for a commercial fiber industry or a cottage (handspinners). The implications here are numerous and, I think, seeks to acknowledge a path that may be uniquely feasible in the United States.

The differences in the proposed show rules are too vast for me to even attempt to list here. Read them once, twice, and then again as I have and I think you’ll still be reflecting on them.

So no opinion, no criticisms, no approbrations. Since the rules also serve as a commentary on the direction the IAO thinks the North America alpaca industry may or maybe even should move, I think this time around I have to give these ideas some time to stew a bit.

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