I SHOULDN’T HAVE BEEN SURPRISED by the overpowering odor of manure upon entering the Four Seasons Centre in Owatonna Sunday afternoon. After all, several hundred alpacas sheltered in one place will smell. But I’ve been away from the farm way too many decades.
Just like any offensive odor, though, after awhile I adapted and mostly forgot about the smell for focusing on observing and learning about alpacas at the 7th annual Minnesota Alpaca Expo.
You can’t be among alpacas for long without the cuteness factor winning you over. Such sweet faces.
And wonderment about how these animals can even see, many with eyes buried deep within their coats.
Fleece so soft you want to cuddle these members of the camelid family.
Curious temperaments cause alpacas to cozy near curious onlookers.
Yet, this event is about more than entertaining outsiders like me. This expo is serious stuff with alpaca owners traveling from throughout the Midwest and as far away as Oregon to showcase their animals.
Coveted ribbons bring respect (and sales) of breeding stock and fleece.
As I watched owners line up with their alpacas during judging, I realized the importance of this expo.
Judges check fleece (for crimp and density, etc.) and even testicles, plus a whole lot more. I didn’t seek out an in-depth education.
Rather I was more interested in observing these long-necked creatures who are native to the Andes Mountains region of Chile, Peru and Bolivia. As such, they are comfortable in a cold weather state like Minnesota. On a day when the outdoor air temp hovered around 60 degrees and the inside temp about the same, alpacas risked overheating in their wooly coats. So owners positioned fans around pens, cool breezes fanning across the animals’ backs. I was told that alpaca fleece is warmer than wool.
For the most part, alpacas appear laid back and friendly. But then I remembered something about spitting and inquired, lest an alpaca spit on my treasured camera. Forward movement of an alpaca’s ears put me on alert. Seems if I didn’t pose a threat, I’d be OK. So I backed off with the camera a bit just in case a particular animal misunderstood.
Interestingly enough, one alpaca tender told me alpacas don’t necessarily like to be petted. At least not his.
While I stroked several alpacas, I caressed way more shorn fleece, yarn, and clothing and crafts created from alpaca fleece than I did animals.
And I tried to watch my step for the errant manure missed by the broom.
© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling