Alpacapalooza led to Serendipity

Showcase event has history of fostering love for alpacas

By Sue Vorenberg, Columbian features reporter



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 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday.

Where: Clark County Event Center at the Fairgrounds, 17402 N.E. Delfel Road, Ridgefield.

Cost: Admission is free. Parking is $7.

Information: Visit the Alpaca Association of Western Washington online.

Karen Rice and her daughter, Pam Conrad, came home with a little addiction problem after their first trip to Alpacapalooza.

But once you fall in love with the show’s weird, fuzzy marquee animals — which look a bit like the offspring of a giraffe and a poodle — it’s hard to stop yourself from wanting to increase your daily alpaca dose.

Since their first encounter with them at the event in 2011, the two have grown their own small herd to 11 and launched their own business, the Serendipity Alpaca Ranch.

“The first time we saw them was ’Palooza; we went and thought ‘Oh my gosh, how easy would it be to fall in love with these little creatures?’ ” Rice said. “After that we visited some farms, entered a drawing and lo and behold — we won two boys.”

Not long after, the pair decided they needed a female.

“We got our first maiden (in late 2011), because I said ‘You know, I really want a baby this year,’ ” Rice said.

They now have eight girls and two boys, and will have four more after this year’s breeding season, she said.

The goal of their ranch is to make alpaca products with wool from alpacas on their farm. Rice, who retired last year, has learned about cleaning the wool, fleecing it, spinning it, felting it and making yarn from it, among other things.

“We want to be in this for the incredible fiber they have and how you can use it,” Rice said, patting one of her younger alpacas on the side of its neck. “I want to start weaving with it.”

Alpaca hair is softer and warmer than sheep’s wool and doesn’t contain lanolin, the root cause of many wool allergies. Those qualities have created a solid market for alpaca wool across the country.

Rice’s and Conrad’s ranch hasn’t sold any products yet, but Rice said they hope to start later this year.

Their startup joins many other alpaca ranches in Clark County.

There are at least a dozen farms here — and many more across the state, said Gvido Bars, president of the Alpaca Association of Western Washington, which runs Alpacapalooza.

“There are ranches in every state,” Bars said. “Washington state has the second-largest population of alpacas of anywhere in the continental United States, and Oregon is number three.”

Ohio has the most, he said.

There are 18,000 alpacas registered in Washington. Bars said he didn’t have specific numbers for Clark County.

Alpacapalooza, in its 16th year, will fill the Clark County Event Center at the Fairgrounds with about 600 of the furry creatures from around the region. The animals 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 can attend for free.

“Everyone’s welcome,” Bars said. “Many of the exhibitors will even let children touch the alpacas and go in, feel their fleece and so on.”

Rice said the show is perfect for anyone who wants to learn more about the animals — but be warned, you may find yourself wanting to take a few of them home.

“I just love animals and alpacas; they’re addictive,” Rice said. “Now that I’m retired I can devote the time to learning all about them, educating myself, taking classes, watching videos. I’ll learn from the show. We always do.”