At the pinnacle of alpaca pride

Growers, breeders gather to compare their best

By Ray Legendre, Columbian staff writer

Published:

Updated: April 2, 2012, 2:32 PM

 
photoKenn Hugo holds champion Rossi after a round of judging at Alpacapalooza. Saturday’s contest kicked off the regional two-month showing season, which takes place before the animals are shorn.

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photoLiberty Rose stands for a portrait after judging at the annual Alpaca event at the Clark County Event Center on Saturday.

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photoKathy Klay judges alpaca fleece Saturday at the annual Alpacapalooza at the Clark County Event Center at the Fairgrounds.

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photoAlpacas are groomed for judging Saturday at the annual Alpacapalooza at the Clark County Event Center at the Fairgrounds.

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photoKaitlin Gagnon, center, holds ‘Ruby” as judge Tim Lavan, left, examines her fleece. Alpacas are judged on criteria including quality of fleece and body type and appearance, known as conformation.

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photoAlpacas wait for their turn in the judge’s pen Saturday at Alpacapalooza. Breeders from around the region attended the annual event at the Clark County Events Center at the Fairgrounds.

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The white, third-place ribbon she earned, presumably, meant nothing to Liberty Rose. The saucer-eyed, fluffy-haired 6-month-old female Huacaya alpaca stared into the distance Saturday morning inside the Clark County Events Center at the Fairgrounds, awaiting an opportunity to frolic with friends and eat hay in her pen.

However, to her breeder, Floyd Smith of Edmonds, the ribbon offered a glimpse of what makes “’Palooza,” as he called it, so special. Here he could gauge his alpacas against the best of the Pacific Northwest and, with good results, set the stage to sell their breeding services or sell them outright for thousands of dollars.

“For me it’s a measuring stick,” said Smith, who splits his time between commercial fishing in Alaska and raising alpacas.

The 12th annual Alpacapalooza returned to the Clark County Events Center for the second straight year Saturday, showcasing more than 500 alpacas from more than 125 farms in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and one apiece from Utah and California, according to the event’s organizer, the Alpaca Association of Western Washington.

Perhaps best known as the smaller, more people-friendly cousins of llamas, alpacas are unique because of their easy demeanor, pillow-soft fleece and the “green” fashion in which they do no harm to the Earth they tread, alpaca owners raved Saturday.

Alpacapalooza is traditionally the first event of its kind in the Pacific Northwest during the two-month alpaca show season. Many of Saturday’s participants show their alpacas in events nationwide in April and May. Alpacas generally have their coats shorn in late May or early June.

Alpacas, grouped by age (juvenile, yearling, or adult), sex, fleece color and type, competed in two separate grass rings Saturday morning. The two type of alpacas displayed were Huacaya, defined by their soft, spongy fiber, and Suri, which have long dreadlocks that sometimes obscure their eyes.

Seminars about alpaca-related issues and an auction took center stage Saturday afternoon and into the early evening. In the shadow of the two rings, alpacas lounged in their hay-covered pens as fans blew cool air on them.

Smith’s wife, Janis, and her sister, Barb Conklin of Mukilteo, watched from the stands as Liberty Rose competed in the female rose gray class for Huacaya alpacas 6 months to a year old. Often the alpacas’ exterior hair color differed from their interior hair color, once the judge smoothed his hand through it, as was the case with Liberty Rose -- who competed against five other alpacas with a “rose gray” fleece defined by a mixture of black and brown fibers.

Alpacas were judged on their body type and appearance, also known as conformation, and how dense and fine their fleece was, among other criteria. Some alpacas remained attached to

their owners’ hips as the judge walked past. Others circled around their owners like amped-up children.

“It’s exciting and competitive and you learn a lot about alpacas and fiber,” said Janis Smith, who owns Aleutian Eagle Alpacas with her husband, describing Alpacapalooza. “You get to see how good your breeding program is.”

The Smiths brought five alpacas to the competition.

In the case of Liberty Rose, the couple had sold her as a 5-day-old to Liberty Alpacas of Maple Valley, a southeast suburb of Seattle. Liberty Alpacas is owned by Jeff Williamson, head of the Alpaca Association of Western Washington.

Williamson joked that if someone had told him six years ago he would head an alpaca association he would laughed at them. Five years ago, he and his wife, Lorrie, bought their first alpaca, and they have not stopped since.

On Saturday, he brought seven alpacas to the event. The first three earned a pair of third-place ribbons and a fifth-place ribbon.

“Everybody’s pretty friendly, but it’s definitely a competition,” Williamson said.

Hugo Ulloa echoed Williamson’s thoughts. The Chilean native, who owns Alpacas de la Patagonia in Camano Island, has won first-place ribbons in the past three or four years at Alpacapalooza. Winning at Alpacapalooza means more because of whom you are winning against, he explained.

“I’ve been from west to east, east to west,” said Ulloa, who wore a stylish black beret. “This is the best show in the west. There’s really good quality and breeders at this show.”

Ray Legendre: 360-735-4517; http://facebook.com/raylegend;http://twitter.com/col_smallcities;ray.legendre@columbian.com.