2013 MAPACA Jubilee
Northern Solstice Alpaca Farm in Unity, Maine is home to 28 Huacaya (pronounced wuh-kai-ya) alpacas. Owners Robin Fowler and Corry Pratt founded their farm in 2004 and bought their first alpacas in 2006. Then in 2009 they started the Alpaca Center of New England, "an organization providing educational opportunities for all alpaca owners and anyone interested in learning more" . Alpacas are a domesticated species of camelid that hail from South America. They are raised primarily for their luxurious fiber and were first imported to the United States in the 1980's.
This internship was not my first time working with alpacas. I had cared for the alternative species at Alfred State College's Farm Laboratory, which included five male Huacaya alpacas, for three semesters. Additionally, during my senior year at Alfred State College I had served as a Supplemental Instructor for a Farm Animal Management class that included a unit on alpacas and llamas. This internship appealed to me because I had a strong desire to learn more about raising alpacas in a sustainable fashion, and the owners of this farm are highly respected in the industry.
3 AM comes early when you're too excited to sleep. I'd done evening chores at the farm the night before and was eager to attend the 2013 MAPACA Jubilee in my home state of Pennsylvania. The car was mostly packed, except for my Husky and myself. I drove to Northern Solstice a little before 4 AM to help them load the five girls, and was impressed at how easily the young ladies stepped into the dark trailer. The sun was still hiding and it was raining but everyone was in good spirits. Then we hit the road for an uneventful 10 hour drive. Once we reached Pennsylvania, I left the trailer behind to drop my dog off at the farm where I had grown up. This was to be the first Level 5 alpaca show that I had ever attended.
After dropping my dog off, I headed to the Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex and Expo Center in Harrisburg. Corry and Robin had already checked the girls in, so I assisted them with setting up their booth. This included moving panels, hanging containers for hay and water, and carrying in the farm display and banners. At check in, volunteers enter each alpaca into a color class by comparing the animal's fiber to a color chart. Three of the alpacas we brought needed to be evaluated by the judges at 8 PM because the volunteers could not agree on the color. So at 8 PM we brought Emma, Riata and Sweet P to the judges in Arena #2 to be color checked. This second check is important because an alpaca can be disqualified for being in the wrong color class. Robin and Corry explained that if an alpaca's color is questionable it is best to be placed in the darker color class as it will show a brighter fleece. The owners are not allowed to interact with the judges, so I was assigned the task of bringing the ladies to be evaluated.
The next day I arrived at the Farm Show Complex at 7:30 AM to clean the pen so the alpacas would not soil their fiber. The pens at this show have real turf as a substrate, which absorbs urine and is easier to clean than a rubber mat. Huacayas must be shown in a natural state, so we had to carefully pick the hay and straw out of their fiber with our hands, which is another reason the turf is preferred over bedding such as straw or shavings. One concern of using turf is that the alpacas might eat too much of the rich green grass and have loose manure. Northern Solstice prides themselves on the superior health of their animals, so I observed that their alpacas were not nearly as effected by the green grass and stress as other animals at the show. I also filled the water buckets, and as is fairly standard of any livestock show, we had brought water from the farm to avoid the possibility of the animals refusing to drink unfamiliar water.
Riata was to be shown in the second class of the day, and Corry arrived dressed in a black and white suit as is proper professional attire for the show ring. Riata ended up placing fourth in a class of six. At an alpaca show, the animals are grouped into classes by breed, age, gender, and color. They are lead into the arena one at a time so the judge can evaluate fiber characteristics and conformation. The judge watches the animal walk towards her, then away from her, then from the side. The animals line up side-by-side in the arena. There is usually no more than 12 in a class, so a larger class may be split into two groups. Once all the alpacas are in the arena, the judge inspects each individual animal. This includes parting the lips to ensure that the alpaca's upper dental pad and lower incisors meet correctly. The judge then works from head to hip and inspects the fleece for fineness, density, consistency and character. Finally the judge checks the genitalia by lifting the tail. Only a maximum of six alpacas will be placed, so the judge selects her top six alpacas and ribbons are awarded. The judge then gives oral reasons for why she placed the class the way she did.
The next alpacas to be shown were Savanna and Sweat P. These classes were back to back, so I checked in Sweat P and held her in line, called the "deck," while Corry showed Savanna. At this particular show, there is a first deck and second deck where you wait with your class to go into the arena. This helps to ensure that the show runs smoothly and in a timely fashion. Both of the girls were quiet in the ring and placed second and fifth respectively, which was a wonderful testament to Northern Solstice's breeding practices and the genetic prowess of their herd sire, AG Space Cowboy. Because Savanna placed second, she had to return for the selection of Champion and Reserve Champion of all females of her color, and I was tasked with haltering her and bringing her back to the arena for Corry to show. In this Champion class, the first place females from all age groups of that color are lined up for consideration, and the second place females are lined up behind them. When the judge selects a Champion, the second place female behind that animal will step up into the first line for consideration. The judge then selects her Reserve Champion.
The show ran until Sunday. All of the alpacas we brought ended up "placing in the ribbons" in their classes. It was a wonderful experience for me and solidified my decision to have alpacas in the future. I was able to successfully select the first place alpaca in each class that I observed so my eye for desirable characteristics is certainly improving. Also, out of all the livestock species that I have shown, this was the least stressful show atmosphere that I have ever experienced. It was a wonderful networking opportunity as well.