600 alpacas to converge on Sevierville

Mar. 02, 2013 @ 12:07 AM

Keith and Jannette Cox came to Sevierville in 2004 with four horses. Now they have 40 alpacas.

"We moved to Sevierville with horses, saw the alpaca and totally changed," Keith said.

He said they only had eight acres of land in Sevierville, not enough space for the horses they had, and they wanted to breed. Alpacas, on the other hand, are easy on the environment. They require less space and have padded feet instead of hooves, so they don't damage the land. Alpacas, which look like smaller versions of their cousin, the llama, eat grass but don't pull it up by the roots, and they don't mind eating brush, fallen leaves and other roughage.

Their droppings are also excellent fertilizer, and they consolidate their feces in one or two communal spots in a pasture, making it easy to collect and compost.

"Plus the horse industry was declining, and the alpaca market was strong so we switched to alpacas," Keith said.

The Cox farm is a breeding farm, not a fiber farm. Fiber farms raise the animals solely for their fiber — a warm, smooth, lightweight, wool-like fiber with the softness of cashmere and the luster of silk. Breeding farms breed the animals for sale.

"We raise livestock for starter farms or additional sale of an animal," Keith said.

Keith said starter farms are required to have at least two alpacas, which can cost around $10,000 to $15,000 apiece. But if you want an alpaca as a pet, you'd get one of the cheaper fiber alpacas, which are around $500.

It's not cheap, but purchasing an alpaca is exactly what many people will be doing this Saturday and Sunday at the Southeastern Alpaca Association's (SeAA) Southern Select Alpaca Show and Sevierville Convention Center.

"If you go to the show and you want to buy an alpaca, you can't go to Walmart, you go to a breeder like myself," Keith said.

Keith compared the event to a dog show, where alpacas enter the ring to be judged. Although he's shown his farm's alpacas in the past, this year Keith, vice president of the SeAA, will focus on the show itself.

"This is the accumulation of three years of hard work to move this show to Sevierville, so I'm concentrating on the show instead of personal endeavors," Keith said. "I may be with the judges in the show ring, or I may be in the association's store. I'll do whatever's needed. These shows are a lot of work."

The first Southern Select Alpaca Show was held in 2002 in Cumming, Ga, and the second was 2003 in Shelbyville, Tenn. This year's show at the Sevierville Events Center will feature over 600 alpacas from Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia.

The alpacas are classified by age, color and type — Huacaya or Suri. The only difference between the two types is their fiber; Huacaya produce a dense, soft, sheep-like fiber, whereas Suri produce a silky, straight, pencil-like fiber.

These fibers are judged specifically in another of the show's competitions — the fleece show. The fleece show allows mail-in entries, and the prizes will be awarded at a luncheon on Saturday.

Alpacas can also win prizes for their costumes, "kind of like a little Halloween party for the alpacas," Keith said.

"And there's a third ring over to the side where the kids have their own fun time," he said.

There will be an alpaca auction at 6 p.m. Saturday, and vendors will showcase their alpaca fiber, hand-crafted alpaca items, fiber arts and more.

Admission to the event is free. Appetizers will be served during the auction, and a cash bar will be available.

rhargett@themountainpress.com