Alpacas: Fleece to meet you

Alpacapalooza fills fairgrounds with competitive fluffiness

By Tom Vogt, Columbian science, military & history reporter

Published:

 

RIDGEFIELD -- Lightly petting the back of King David is like stroking smoke.

You know it's there, but you can't feel it.

When you apply more pressure, you finally sense the soft fleece that is one of the hallmarks of the alpaca.

Kathy Batzelle had heard a similar reaction earlier Saturday.

"A lady said she'd been touching him, and didn't realize it," she said.

Kathy Batzelle and her husband Larry run Morning Star Ranch, one of 125 Northwest farms and ranches participating in this weekend's Alpacapalooza in the Clark County Event Center at the Fairgrounds.

It continues today from 9 a.m. to about 2 p.m. at 17402 N.E. Delfel Road. Admission is free, but parking is $6.

The show arena was busy bright and early, with halter competitions scheduled in more than 70 different categories. And 10-year-old Sofia Ulloa already had a pretty good collection of ribbons early Saturday afternoon.

"This is my seventh," she said after earning a red ribbon for a second-place finish with Obsidian.

The animals Sofia showed were entered by Alpacas de la Patagonia, in Camano Island.

"They're sweet," Sofia said.

The alpacas' nice disposition is handy, since -- as Sofia pointed out -- "Mostly, they're bigger than me."

So are most of the other people showing alpacas in the ring. Sofia wasn't competing in a youth class. After the ribbons were awarded in the show ring, Sofia accepted congratulatory handshakes from handlers who were three or four times her age.

"She's been doing this since she was 5," said her mother, Karen Byram. "And they're judging the animal, so as long as she can handle the animal," her daughter isn't at a competitive disadvantage.

Value of fleece

Which brings us back to fleece. The ribbons were awarded on the basis of two elements: 60 percent on an alpaca's fleece and 40 percent on its conformation, or how its structure and appearance match the ideal standards of the breed.

Why does the fiber get the bigger share of the scoring?

"It's the value in him," Kathy Batzelle said as she stood beside King David.

"His dad produces 14 pounds of fiber a year. A 3-ounce skein of alpaca fleece sells for an average of $10 to $12," she said. "I can sell it 'dirty' -- right off the animal -- for $2 or $3 an ounce."

In addition to King David, the Batzelles brought Caleb and Joshua to Alpacapalooza.

Scott Miller had a lot more company, bringing about 30 alpacas from Crescent Moon Ranch in Terrebonne, Ore.

About 20 of them were in one pen, and without realizing it, they were illustrating some of the appeal of alpacas. They all were getting along splendidly as they nibbled on hay scattered around the pen.

"They're eating the hay we grow. We don't like to change food on them," Miller explained.

He hauled only a few bales, which is another part of an alpaca's appeal: They're easy keepers.

"About 250 pounds of hay will feed all of them for the weekend," Miller said.

Tom Vogt: 360-735-4558; http://twitter.com/col_history; tom.vogt@columbian.com