YouTube might have otters holding hands. But do they have alpacas making out?
This weekend, downtown Madison streets were lined with twenty-somethings tossing beanbags in between sips of PBR and bites of bratwurst. But I was not going to let my peers goad me into this trendy tomfoolery. I had plans. I was going to the Great Midwest Alpaca Festival!
Last time I was at the Alliant Energy Center, Tom Petty was the draw. His preacher-man antics during "Free Fallin'" were enough to make me wonder if the sticky stuff on the floor was LSD. Evidently, cleanup has yet to occur.
The Coliseum was filled with well over a hundred people and probably a similar number of alpacas. This was totally awesome. The Enya playing softly in the background was totally weird. Alpacas like New Age music. You learn something new every day.
At the lambing I went to awhile back, I was able to really get to know some of the sheep -- sometimes I still attend their Thirsty Thursdays. I figured all farm animals were created equal, but some of these alpacas gave some major-league attitude! Getting snubbed got me down at first, but once I entered the bigger arena I understood the reason for their ego.
A faux pasture was set up on the left side of the arena and enclosed a group of men and women lined up with alpacas on leashes. It struck me as a warped Westminster Kennel Club dog show, but after speaking to Roland Hopson of Glen Cove Alpacas, I gained a better understanding of the alpaca competition.
Alpacas are not just another fuzzy friend in the animal kingdom; they are also the suppliers of the softest, silkiest yarn in the land.
In summer, they get shorn just like sheep, and their hair is spun into fibers used to make clothing, blankets and other products. The alpacas are not judged on their back-flip ability but on the quality and crimp of the fleece hidden an inch or two beneath the surface. Interestingly, an alpaca can be covered with oodles of crap -- cardboard pieces, hay, Swedish fish, etc. -- and as long as the judge can get to the fleece it's a-ok. Preening is actually against the rules -- no ribbons or bows or hairspray, oh my! For alpacas, beauty is fleece-deep. Winning a ribbon at a festival is like winning an Oscar, without the embarrassing thank you speeches.
Here are a few random alpaca facts:
- Alpacas are a herd species; they can be raised as pets but they must be in a group of at least two, preferably of the same sex. Leave an alpaca alone and he will kick the bucket from depression.
- The alpha male in a herd will designate a urination station. After that, the herd must do their business in that spot. If Mildred is taking too long on the pot, Beatrice will line up and wait, similar to West Towne Mall's lavatories at Christmastime.
- Alpacas have a gestation period of about 50 weeks. That just sucks.
- Alpacas descend from the camel family but are only cousins of the llama. Due to the lax breeding processes overseas, importing alpacas into the USA is no longer possible. All alpacas currently in the country are given a birth certificate based on their DNA that traces their family tree. The purpose of this is to increase the quality of the fleece.
- The two families of alpacas are the Huacaya and Suri. The Huacaya look like this, while the Suri look like Tom Cruise.
Vendors were also present at the fest, selling wares and giving yarn-spinning demonstrations. At one kiosk, an elementary school capitalist sold me an alpaca finger puppet for a $1.50. It has provided me hours of entertainment, but a small herd of alpacas would be more rewarding.
I once told a friend I wanted to adopt kids, but now I think cria may be the way to go. Family and textiles all at once? That's like a Midwestern dream! Oh gosh, do I have the Midwestern dream? Why do I suddenly feel like a German settler in the late 1800s?