In the early days on the American frontier, hunters and traders gathered in rendezvous to exhibit their wares, swap hides for other necessities and in general learn what was going on in remote parts of the territories. Alpaca shows serve those same purposes for breeders: a chance to get together, see progeny from different herdsires, market alpacas for sale, show off the products of breeding programs, and find out in the show ring how experienced, expertly-trained judges view and place the alpacas.
Alpaca shows usually consist of 4 sections: Halter, Production classes (sometimes called group or optional classes), performance classes and fleece/fiber arts. The halter classes may be further divided into regular halter, shorn and composite. In all halter classes, group and fleece classes, suri and huacaya alpacas are shown separately. In the performance ring, they compete together. In the halter classes, males and females are shown separately. Some shows may only offer halter classes, but larger shows are strongly encouraged to offer as many sections as possible. Let’s walk through the door of a fairly large alpaca show:
You’ll see alpacas in lines of pens from wall to wall in the area commonly referred to as the “barn,” usually a maximum of three animals per 8’ x 10’ pen. A typical farm may have a stall for three females, one for males, and one for the owner’s display booth. Larger farms often have two or three stalls combined for females and another equally large section for males. If you are looking for a particular farm, go to “Show Central,” usually a desk or stall area where the organizers of the show can be found. That’s the place to find stall locations, the schedule for showing, and information about any educational events being held in conjunction with the show.
Smaller shows may only have one or two rings, while larger shows can have three or four. A ring is a fenced-off area usually 60’ X 80’, enough to accommodate a maximum class size of 11. Let’s sit down in the bleacher area and try to figure out what is going on. In the ring, you’ll see a Judge, assisted by a Ring Steward. We have learned from the show book or schedule that we are watching the full-fleece male huacaya classes, with separate age groups of juveniles, yearlings, and 2-year+ in the black color group. The males entered in this class are in a holding pen where the Gatekeeper makes certain they are all present and lined up oldest to youngest. The Judge signals the 1st Exhibitor and his/her alpaca to enter the ring and walk across in a traffic pattern directed by the steward. During this walk, the Judge will watch carefully how the alpaca moves, how balanced he is on his feet, whether there are any conformation faults that might affect the animal’s rank in the class, and many other characteristics evident in movement. After all males in this class have entered the ring in this manner and been lined up by the steward, the Judge will being a close inspection of each alpaca, asking the Exhibitor to show the alpaca’s teeth and hold him steady for examination of the fiber. The Judge will look for uniformity of crimp, fineness, density and color throughout the fleece, and other characteristics found in the AOA Show Rule book. This being a male class, the Judge will also lift the alpaca’s tail and examine the testicles for size consistent with the age group.
After the Judge has examined each alpaca, he/she will again usually take another walk around looking at the animals from different angles and begin signaling the top selections to come forward. Most shows award 6 places, so a normal procedure is for the Judge to excuse the others not among the top six. After making the final placements, written on the placing card by the Steward and signed by the Judge, the Judge gives oral reasons for the winners, hopefully with a microphone so all the attendees can hear.
This process is completed for the classes in each age group for this color. Then the 1st and 2nd place winners for each class are called back into the ring for a Male Color Championship. From among the 1st Place winners, a Champion is selected and then the 2nd behind that winner is brought forward and from those now in the first rank a Reserve Champion is selected.
While we watch this ring of huacayas, there may be another ring judging suris or female huacayas in a similar fashion…but wait, there ‘s some very different activity going on in another ring!
In Performance, huacayas, suris, males, females and geldings are eligible, since the focus here is on how the handler and alpaca work as a team. Showmanship is a class in which the Exhibitor is judged on how well he/she handles the alpaca in walking a pattern, making safe turns, and answering questions the Judge will ask regarding husbandry! Another Performance activity is the Obstacle course, consisting of 7-10 items like a small bridge, a teeter-totter that rocks as the alpaca and handler cross over, an area marked on the ground where the handler makes the alpaca back up, and other unique challenges. Since safety is a concern, the Judge must give approval to the obstacles and suggest any changes to Show Management before the class begins. Some of the same obstacles are also included in the Public Relations classes, which show how the alpaca and exhibitor meet with strangers, go through a gate or even meet a barking dog. Some shows offer Costume classes, with the alpaca and the handler both in costume and a narrative prepared by the handler and read by the show Announcer.
These focus on displaying the quality and consistency of breeding programs, such as the Get of Sire. The owner enters the sire (who is not shown) and selects 3 representatives from all the available progeny of that sire entered in the show. These three are judged as a group, looking for the qualities that sire stamps on his progeny. A similar judging happens in the Produce of Dam, except that the two must be from the same dam. Male and female progeny can be used in both these groups. Other Production classes are Breeder’s Best Three, selected by the breeder from all their entries, and the Bred and Owned Yearling Male and Bred and Owned Yearling Female, products of the owner’s breeding program from conception to show.
To accommodate a variety of shearing dates and weather patterns, some shows also offer Shorn classes, in which the alpaca is judged solely on conformation and the fleece is not inspected, or Composite classes, in which the alpaca is judged as shorn while the fleece is judged separately and the scores combined.
These typically have “closed” judging, tucked away in a quiet area where the Judge(s) can concentrate on the quality of the skirted raw fleece brought to the show in clear plastic bag and spread on a table for examination. Classes are divided by color and age groups, with a wider range of ages than halter classes. The sexes are not separated except in the largest shows. After the fleece judging is completed, usually the room is opened to the public to see the fleeces displayed with the ribbons awarded. Often there will be a Judge’s Comments presentation in which the Judge will describe the qualities of winning fleeces and give advice to participants. Look for this in the show schedule. Many fleece shows offer auxiliary fiber arts shows, where items made from alpaca fleece are judged.
In keeping with the “fair-like” atmosphere of an alpaca show, there are usually vendors where we can purchase items made of alpaca fiber and other alpaca-related souvenirs. Most are happy to explain the process they use to make something fashionable from raw alpaca fiber. Often there are demonstrations of spinning, felting, fiber cleaning, knitting and crafts.
Now that you know what to expect, how do you get involved? First, we always suggest that newcomers volunteer at a nearby show to learn and begin to feel comfortable in the bustling show environment. To find a show to enter or volunteer, shows that have applied for AOA certification are listed on the Upcoming Show calendar found on the Alpaca Owners website. Costs of stall and display space rental vary, but you can expect to spend about $145 per space on average. The fee per halter and fleece entry is usually $30–$50, including $6 that goes to the AOA Show Division for Judge Training programs. Fees for the Performance entries are often less and some shows allow multiple entries for one fee to encourage participation. A Certificate of Veterinary Inspection is always required, which a vet can provide after examining your show animals. These certificates have extra tests varying by state, if the show is away from your home area. The cost of travel, hotel and meals is increasing and motor homes are becoming a common sight at show venues. Smaller local shows sponsored by affiliate organizations are popular ways for newcomers to join in, gaining an introduction to this aspect of marketing your herd and keeping up with industry trends.
Contributor: Lucy Farrar