Spectators flock to the Alpaca show in Denver
March 21, 2017
Being the barn manager at a show with more than 800 animals from 25 states is a big job.
Larry Zierer, barn manager at the Alpaca Owners Association National Show and owner of LazyB Acres Alpacas in Bennett, Colo., had the responsibility of keeping every alpaca safe, organized and healthy at the event — including his own. It would've been a daunting task, he said, if it had been any other show or any other animal.
But alpaca people know their stuff, Zierer said, and the animals are sweet, low maintenance and relatively easy to care for. From the moment alpacas and vendors started showing up on March 15 to the National Western Complex to the hours of breakdown, clean-up and herding tired animals into trailers March 19, the show went smoothly and drew large crowds of spectators.
"There's been more public at this show than we've ever had at any other alpaca show," Zierer said as he lightly scratched the fluff on the neck of Charlemagne, a 9-month old alpaca. "People in Denver are coming out to see alpacas is a great thing."
“We love our animals, so when somebody buys one, we don’t want to just hand them over and say, ‘good luck.”
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And just like the attitude of alpaca owners helped Zierer, it was a boon for the spectators, too. As Zierer haltered Charlemagne and guided him out to meet several children, one squealed to her mother, "everyone here is so nice."
At pens across the Hall of Education at the National Western Complex, farm owners led alpacas out of their enclosures to meet children — many of whom stood eye-to-eye with the small animals. Some of the alpacas snuggled into the pats and hugs they received. Others even gave little kisses to their new human friends.
"It was really soft," said 5-year-old Grace Christensen of Aurora, Colo., after she and her sister played with a white huacaya alpaca from Bend, Ore.'s, Snow Diamond Alpacas. With a shy grin, Christensen said it was cool to get a kiss from an alpaca.
Huacayas are the more common of the two alpaca breeds, and have curly, fluffy hair that poofs out from their bodies. Suris, the other breed, have long, straighter hair that falls flat.
For Marcia Traudt of M&J Alpaca Farm in Aurora, Neb., it's not even a choice between the two breeds.
"I just love my Suris," she said. Several of her animals won ribbons in competition, where they were judged on the quality of their fleece, their conformation and their teeth. Alpacas only have bottom teeth, which helps them cut grass, rather than pull it out, Traudt explained.
Traudt's grandson, 12-year-old Austin Holtzen, helped show a couple of her alpacas during the competition. He just has a way with them, Traudt said, as Austin clipped a halter onto the white alpaca he was preparing to show March 19.
"They're sweet animals," Holtzen said. "They just love getting petted and played with."
Seeing the different breeds and the high variance in color and texture from animal-to-animal was the highlight of the show for Taylor Moore of Arvada. As her three-year-old daughter, Kali Bowles, walked tentatively from pen-to-pen to see the fluffy strangers, Moore explained she never knew there were different kinds of alpacas. She was excited to give her daughter that kind of glimpse into the agriculture world, since that's not something you get every day in the metro area.
Getting the public into the show and up-close and personal with alpacas is a boon for the breed, said Bill Wills, owner of Roland Valley Suri Alpacas in Bailey, Colo. All throughout the show, when people came to his pens to see the animals, Wills talked about the benefits of owning them. They're one of the easiest livestock animals to own, largely because of their temperament and their ability to be boarded at larger farms, he said.
That's how Wills and his wife, Traci, got started. They purchased a few alpacas, but boarded — or agisted, as the industry calls it — them at a larger ranch in Parker until they could buy land of their own.
At the show, Wills sold several alpacas to first-time owners who fell in love with them at Nationals. Those new owners were going to agist the alpacas with the Wills herd for a little while. Wills said with any luck, this foray into agriculture will lead them to start a ranch of their own.
"We love (alpacas.) It's a passion. Anytime we get an audience to talk about them, it's very cool," Wills said.
For Silken Suris Alpaca Ranch owner Amber Isaac, teaching new people about the breed is more important than any award. Even though her booth at the National Show was covered in ribbons her suri alpacas had won, she said she'd much rather talk to the public about the animals she loves than ever step into a show ring.
Raising alpacas is just fun, and more people should know that, she said. Plus, since they're rarer than sheep in the U.S. and their fiber is valuable, owning alpacas is a sound business decision, too.
And it's a business you don't have to go into alone. Wills who got help from another ranch, is now helping new alpaca owners. Isaac mentors those who buy animals from her Castle Rock, Colo.-based herd. The alpaca industry is big on mentorship, she explained. She offers both one-on-one mentoring and group classes.
"We love our animals, so when somebody buys one, we don't want to just hand them over and say, 'good luck,'" Isaac said.
When she talks to spectators about her alpacas — including a prematurely born alpaca named Cody The Teeny Tiny Alpaca — she hopes to give them a different outlook on a new lifestyle.
She said alpacas have only been in the U.S. for about 40 years, but have been in South America for 400. Shows like this help promote something Isaac thinks most people have really been missing out on.
"They see a fabulous product and see their cute faces," she said, gesturing to the row of alpacas lazily plodding around their pens next to her. Children's little fingers were wrapped around the bars, peeking through at the animals, while their parents snapped pictures. "The goal really is to enjoy raising alpacas." ❖
— Work is a freelance writer from Lakewood, Colo. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.