Immediately upon opening the door, an aroma unique to my memory seemed to waif past my nose. --- Not that of a fusty cellar, but rather, redolent of wild animals. ----One you won’t forget!
It was my first time to attend the Carolina Alpaca Celebration. It is an annual gathering of those who have an interest in sharing their passion for raising alpacas. The event center was a menagerie of offerings, all related to the little creature.
For a total novice, such as myself, my eyes were wide open as I roamed the tables of beautiful scarves, hats, coats, and toys. All products were made from the illustrious fiber inherent to the alpaca. Everything was pillowy soft, enticing you to touch it. There was a lushness to it.
Among the offerings was the fiber itself. Boxes of it, waiting to be spun to your imagine. A group of women were present doing just that. Though nostalgic in approach, it was very current in application. Interesting.
The event offered classes with an array of subjects including: “Generating Income for Your Farm”, “Preparing Your Fleece for the Mill”, and “Alpaca 101” among them. I elected to attend the latter for a quick overview. Char Johnson of Happy Tails Alpacas (China Grove, North Carolina) was the speaker. Her 10 acre, 24 head herd, has given her priceless experience and authority within this field.
Alpacas are cousins to the llama. In addition, they are relatives of the vicuna and guanaco. All are members of the camel family: Camelidae. The alpaca is a timid creature that exists as a pack animal. They stand only 35” high at the shoulder and weigh a maximum of 145 pounds. Their blunt face and short ears give them the same endearment of a teddy bear.
For over 5000 years, the fiber has been harvested for its strong and hypoallergenic features. Unlike sheep’s wool, it is lanolin-free. The fleece is intrinsically flame and water resistant. Innate to the rough climate of the Andes Mountains of South America, Alpaca farming has lifted many families from poverty.
Alpaca farms are good for the earth. The animals’ two toes (not hooves!) allow them to walk the earth without disrupting the soil. As they snip off only the tops of grass, their grazing permits the roots to regenerate on their own. By rotating pastures, food supply can be restored.
Every business has its expenses. This is not an exception. The security of the animals is a premium. Their docile nature falls easy prey to wolves, bobcats, bears, and wild dogs. Additionally, a male alpaca can easily jump a 4 foot fence. Therefore, it is vital to maintain a strong enclosure.
While they love to feast on crab grass, they cannot digest rye grass. Approximately 85% of their diet must include grain. And….they must have fresh water to nibble (they do not lick).
An annual shirring is imperative. This usually takes place in December. As they breathe through their nose (not mouth) this clipping is vital. This procedure is abetted by being halter trained. -----a must for each alpaca!
Alpacas are stoic creatures. They give little-to-no indication of illness until it is too late. This necessitates an annual veterinarian visit to check for possible parasitic symptoms. It is estimated that 80% of the herd’s problems stem from 20% of its members. A sure indication of illness is a change in weight or eye color. Therefore, an active knowledge of each animal must be maintained.
From the look of fellow discussion attendees, there was great interest in what was being shared. Comments indicated experiences of like matters and concerns. Interestingly enough, those present were mostly middle-aged. It was as if this was a second career for them. A choice to restart life.
Once concluded, I made my way to where the “celebrities” of this event were located. Yes, there were alpacas all over the place! To my surprise, they were there for a competition. Much like the world renowned Westminster Dog Show, they were being judged. Each animal’s handler would go through a series of movements and required actions all while being subject to the discriminating eye of a panel of judges. I was amazed---it was a beauty pageant of sorts!
I walked about the rows and rows of pens and looked at the little fellas. Like the loveable character, Bambi, each had a sweetness to them. A kind, humbleness generated from their big brown eyes and round cheeks. Most were shy, often bowing their head or looking away. Only one made a sound. It was like the chirping of a bird. ---Not sure what that meant, but there did not seem to be a sense of distress.
I left the event feeling refreshed. I had been given the opportunity to expand my knowledge of careers. I had been given the opportunity to experience the passion and commitment it takes to be a part of such a community. I had been given the opportunity to see the incredible beauty of another one of God’s creatures.