If you go
• What: Alpacapalooza, an event in which breeders, animals and vendors will participate in two days of shows, competitions and sales of alpaca products.
• When: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and 9 a.m. to noon Sunday.
• Where: Clark County Event Center at the Fairgrounds, 17402 N.E. Delfel Road, Ridgefield.
• Cost: Admission is free. Parking is $7.
• Information: Alpaca Association of Western Washington or 503-318-0964.
(Steven Lane/The Columbian)
(Steven Lane/The Columbian)
The air was still and silent as the herd of about 60 pregnant alpacas grazed along the grass in one of the fields at The Alpaca Group's ranch in Ridgefield.
As on most spring mornings, the shy but curious creatures grouped together, with an occasional brave soul venturing forth periodically to investigate workers or onlookers.
In a few months, the alpacas will give birth and the shearing season will begin. But this weekend, the animals have a decidedly more energetic and sociable event ahead of them.
Alpacapalooza, in its 15th year, will fill the Clark County Event Center at the Fairgrounds with about 600 alpacas that will participate in a variety of shows and contests.
Along with that, vendors from about 150 farms will be on hand with products including socks, hats, coats, sweaters, gloves and stranger items like lamp shades, wine bottle covers and laundry machine dryer balls.
And the public is welcome to attend -- for free.
"We always get members of the public out here, but we'd like to see even more," said Jeff Williamson, president of the Alpaca Association of Western Washington, which organizes the event. "It's always great for parents to bring their kids. A lot of kids haven't seen alpacas before, and they really enjoy them."
Alpacas, with their long necks and shaggy hair, look like something you might get if you bred a poodle with a giraffe. A herd animal from South America, they tend to have calm temperaments and are much more personable than their larger cousins, llamas.
Ranches like The Alpaca Group breed them as stock animals prized mainly for their hair, which is softer and warmer than sheep's wool and doesn't contain lanolin, the root cause of many wool allergies.
And while the industry is growing, it's still a lot smaller in the United States than it is in South America, where some ranchers have 1 million to 2 million alpacas in a herd. The largest U.S. farm, in comparison, has about 2,500 alpacas.
The Alpaca Group, with about 200 animals, is one of the Pacific Northwest's larger ranches. Founded in 1995, the business has grown and thrived, said Cory McNair, farm manager, whose father was one of the founders.
"As far as livestock goes, they're incredibly easy to raise," McNair said. "They don't rip up the ground, they have padded feet, and they don't eat a lot."
Their temperaments are so passive that some people, McNair included, keep them as pets or for yard maintenance, he added.
"There's something about alpacas that's just peaceful," McNair said. "There's a calming effect about them."
A small economy has sprung up around the Ridgefield farm, with neighbors creating knitted goods and other items out of the company's wool that are up for sale at The Alpaca Group's small store.
In a few months, a winery is planning to set up shop next door, with a patio where visitors can sample vintages and watch the alpacas stroll in the grass, McNair said.
The winery visitors will be welcome to check out the ranch, although the animals aren't generally enthusiastic about being petted.
"As an animal, alpacas are more curious than they are friendly," McNair said. "They're like people, they have all different temperaments. There are always a few that come up first and a few that follow you around."
One of the ranch's older residents, a 17-year-old alpaca named Cindy, is usually eager to be part of the welcoming committee -- especially if it involves food.
"She's great," McNair said. "Once you feed her, she'll follow you anywhere."
The animals usually live somewhere between 15 and 18 years, McNair added.
Cindy won't be heading to Alpacapalooza, but a selection of the ranch's young stud and show alpacas will participate.
"It's nice to have a show that's only five miles away, and this show has really been growing at this location," McNair said. "It's a really good venue."
The ranch has been participating in the event for several years, and one of his favorite parts is watching the kids from 4H show their alpaca-raising skills, McNair said.
"The 4H kids love them. It's just a different perspective than the technology world today," McNair said. "They'll train them and run them through an obstacle course. That's really fun, to see the kids getting so excited about it."