Smile! It’s Alpacapalooza

Annual event brings cute animals, owners, fans together at fairgrounds

By Scott Hewitt, Columbian Arts & Features Reporter

Published:

 

Alpacapalooza 2017

• When: 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. April 1; 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. (approximately) April 2.

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

• Cost: Free. $6 for parking.

• On the web: http://www.alpacawa.org/

Alpacas Vs. llamas

Alpaca

• Fluffy, curly, "teddy bear" cute.

• Smaller: 150 pounds and 4 to 5 feet tall at the head.

• Shorter ears.

• Gentle, timid, trainable.

Llama

• Long, elegant, shiny.

• Larger: 400 pounds and 5 to 6 feet tall at the head.

• Long, banana-shaped ears.

• Social but independent and brave. Good guards.

It’s like a magical scene from some animated Disney musical: hundreds of gorgeously colorful and sensually soft sweaters, blankets, hats, scarves, shawls, mittens and slippers, all strolling humbly about with bemused smiles on their sweet, fuzzy faces.

That scene may be imaginary, but it’s not too far from the truth. One of the main events at this weekend’s Alpacapalooza at the Clark County Events Center at the Fairgrounds will be a “walking fleece” competition — in other words, the fleece is still on the animal while judges examine and render a verdict on length, luster, texture and uniformity. While that’s happening, proud alpaca owners and spectators may well glimpse the future in that living parade of luxurious clothing.

For other alpaca fans, it’s less about potential commerce than about actual cute. “The big brown eyes and soft cuddly feeling” is what Karen Rice said she and her daughter, Pam Conrad, fell in love with when they attended their first Alpacapalooza in 2011. A few farm visits later, the mother and daughter duo decided that raising alpacas would make an excellent hobby.

But it’s become so much more than that, Rice reported last week. Serendipity Alpaca Ranch, in Ridgefield, has turned into a dual-property operation with a thriving herd and a busy retail storefront, Rice said.

“Our main purpose is focusing on the beautiful fiber,” she said. “I work with the fiber every way I can. We have expanded our operations and expanded our farm store. It’s been well-received by the community. It’s been a great success.”

Royal fiber

Why wouldn’t it? There’s a good reason why alpaca wool is called “the fiber of the gods”: it’s remarkably soft, silky, shiny and fine — pleasing to the touch as well as the eye — yet also dense, strong and weather-resistant. Alpaca wool is even hypoallergenic because it contains no lanolin, the ingredient in sheep’s wool that can really start people scratching.

That unique fiber is what alpacas were originally bred for in the Andes mountains region of South America. They’re not big and strong enough to be pack animals, but every single thing about them is useful nonetheless, breeders say — even their meat, which reportedly resembles lean lamb or pork, and their manure, which is a popular soil conditioner with marijuana farmers, according to Celeste Kreiensieck of Thunder Mountain Alpacas in Battle Ground.

Alpacas are mild-mannered, submissive and even somewhat timid; they definitely like hanging out in herds and usually avoid strangers, according to Kreiensieck. But, some alpacas do grow extroverted around the patting and stroking that some newcomers can’t resist doling out, she said.

“People really love that, and some breeders will have an animal they don’t mind people touching,” said Kreiensieck.

Hundreds of alpacas, and their owners and fans, will be on hand for the 19th annual Alpacapalooza at the Clark County Events Center. The event features contests and judging, vendors and seminars, silent auctions, alpacas for sale and alpacas soaking up a whole lot of loving attention.

There are two breeds of alpacas. The vast majority are huacaya alpacas, which look like immense, fluffy teddy bars; the other type is the relatively rare suri alpaca, with fleece that’s shinier, silkier and straighter. Suri wool is even more sought-after than huacaya wool.

Whatever the breed, Rice said, “They are very delightful animals. They’re easy to care for and enjoyable to have around.”

And, of course, they’re always smiling. Wouldn’t you, if you were an alpaca?