True to type
Alpacas packed the Sevierville Convention Center on Saturday for the annual Southeastern Alpaca Association’s Southern Select Alpaca Show. There were over 600 animals, and it smelled like it. All around alpacas stood or lay in pens, either waiting to be sold, waiting to be showed, or just waiting. In the center were two judging rings.
Nature, going easy on us, endowed this animal with the capacity to communicate by humming; it sounds like a soft plea, as though the alpaca is secretly in pain and has been trying to tell us for a long, long time.
In reality, the hum indicates that the animal is in a state of content. The 12 dark yearling Huacaya alpacas in the female ring pranced about on leashes held by their owners. Standing around 4 feet tall, these animals’ soft, huge heads were seen nuzzling the chests and necks of their owners, but most did not hum. It was hard for some to stand still, especially when the judge spread their lips to check their teeth. The owner would embrace the alpaca by the neck, pressing it close to his body, keeping its head still while its feet kicked out below.
To check the fleece quality, the judge would first grasp large chunks of fiber on the main body, then pluck a single strand from the animal and lay it across a white band on her left forearm. She observed the fiber for fractions of a second, then moved on to the next alpaca.
After just a few minutes of this efficient process, the winners were announced.
“When I saw her fleece, she was the benchmark,” professional judge Jude Anderson said of the winner, a large beast with the face of a teddy bear, named Michelangelo’s Oprah, owned by Paul and Lindy Huber of Seldom Scene Alpacas and Llamas Farm in Frankfort, Ky.
“She has the finest fleece of this group, and an excellent density as well. It’s very soft, which is a good indicator of the uniformity of micron that she has running across the blanket and along the stable. Nicely grown out, and a true-to-type young yearling female.”
Anderson spoke into a microphone that was wired to speakers throughout the convention center, so even the women near the exit spinning alpaca fiber into clothing could hear the winners. Alpaca fiber is lustrous, silky, lightweight and warm. It’s good for a variety of textile materials, from sweaters and socks to blankets and bedding. The hair has long been used for clothing in South America, and, known as “the fiber of the gods,” was once reserved for royalty.
“In second place, coming pretty close behind, she also has a soft fleece,” came Anderson’s voice over the speakers. “She has a little bit of a weakness in her top line. I’d like to see a stronger top line on her depending on how she was standing here today.”
These animals were not dressed, but there was a separate competition for alpacas in costume. They were judged on the imagination of the costume, as well as how comfortable the animal wearing it was. Several alpacas near the eating area could be seen walking around with quilts across their backs.
“When I compared second to third, I found third place also was a true-to-type female, but I found a denser fleece on second place,” Anderson said. “Third place has a nicely grown frame as well, she’s ready to breed.”
The remaining animals that placed were smaller than the top three, and each had some sort of slight defect in fleece or structure, or otherwise a failure in posture when walking around the ring.
“The fifth place female is slightly smaller, and I’d like to see more correctness in her rear legs as she tracked around the ring,” Anderson said.
Meanwhile, a young boy jogged throughout the convention center with his alpaca dressed as a cross between a cowboy and a Peruvian rancher.