Alpacas habit-forming for owners, admirers

Alpacapalooza draws crowd to fairgrounds

By Stevie Mathieu, Columbian assistant metro editor

Published:

 

Did you know?

Alpacas, native to South America, are cousin to the llama. Alpacas have no upper teeth. They chew using their lower teeth and the hard roof of their mouth. Female alpacas typically have one baby at a time, and baby alpacas are called crias. Alpacas come in a wide range of colors, including grey, black, fawn, white and chocolate brown.

Source: Krystal Acres farm

It started out small. Albert and Kris Olson moved to San Juan Island to enjoy retirement, and they found themselves living down the street from an alpaca farm.

“You become kind of bored,” Kris Olson said of retirement. “We thought, ‘What are those funny-looking creatures?’”

The couple, who previously worked as auto parts dealers, decided it would be fun to get some of the fluffy, doe-eyed livestock for themselves. They bought two males.

Fifteen years later, they now own that alpaca farm that was just down the road, and 61 alpacas. They also show some of their alpacas, which is what brought them to the Clark County Events Center at the Fairgrounds on Sunday for Alpacapalooza.

Olson trotted one of her younger female alpacas, Krystal Acres Amelia, onto the show floor. A judge walked from animal to animal, padding down their soft wool and parting their coats to examine individual strands.

Judges give high marks to the alpacas with a dense coat made of long, uniform hairs that are kinked just so. (That’s apparently the type of wool that makes the best garments.)

After the showing, Amelia took home first place in her class. As the judge explained her decision, Amelia tried to wiggle free of her leash and muzzle and eventually laid down on the ground, prompting smiles from some in the audience.

“It’s her first time,” Kris Olson said after the contest.

On Sunday, more than 350 alpacas turned out for Alpacapalooza. In its 16th year, the event is run by the Alpaca Association of Western Washington.

Alpacapalooza drew a larger crowd of spectators than it has in previous years, show supervisor Jeff Williamson said, though he didn’t have exact figures. Part of the draw, he said, is that alpacas are “pretty unique.”

Robin Lint, of Vancouver, brought her 12-year-old granddaughter, Thea Hunt, to Alpacapalooza Sunday. Thea walked from pen to pen, trying to coax the sometimes skittish alpacas closer. Many of the alpacas were busy chewing on hay, and one tried to nibble at the metal bars of its pen.

“I always thought they were kind of cute little animals,” Lint said.

Marianne Moran and her fiance, Ted Geschickter, both of Vancouver, went to the event last year and enjoyed it so much they were back for seconds on Sunday.

“They just seem like very social animals,” Moran said, calling them “sweet.”