Saturday, October 17, 2009

Cold, Dark mornings

I for one am eager for the time change. Like many alpaca farmers, I have a regular daytime job. I get up, get the kids off to school, and feed the alpacas, so I can get off to work. Well, that's around 7:30 a.m. and it's still dark here. It's been cold too! We are having an usually cold fall. So I bundle up, which is ok, I stay plenty warm in my layers. And the layers keep the hay off my work clothes. We do have lights in the barn, but I feed them their grain out in the paddock. I put down bowls and hope the right animal gets by the right bowl. We have a couple skinny girls who need extra grain. I don't want the good weight girls to get that extra grain. I've discovered it's also hard to see how full the water buckets are. Thankfully we have a pretty good routine with feeding their grain, so for the most part, the right alpaca comes to the right spot. But still, I'd prefer a bit more daylight when doing these chores. Something about going out in the dark and cold isn't so appealing.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Show pictures

Here are some pictures from the Michigan fall show. I am very guilty of not taking many pictures at shows. I don't know why I don't take more pictures. I never seem to come home with very many.

This shows our alpaca's pen. Tehya and Lightning are enjoying some hay:

This shows our farm sign:

This is our stall head on, displaying our two 1st place ribbons, and some hand knit products:

This is the show ring, J is in there with Tehya:

On the side the owners and alpacas line up prior to coming into the ring:

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Shows are so much more than ribbons

I know I am guilty of coming home from a show and focusing on the ribbons we've won. While the ribbons are important, there is so much more to going to a show than the ribbons you take home. Sure they are great bragging rights and do help document the quality of your alpacas, but there is an incredible amount of information and networking that goes on at shows.

One thing we enjoy about going to shows is running into people we've met before. This business connects you with farms in other states that you don't often get to see. So one neat thing about going to a shows is seeing what other farms are there and catching up with people you haven't seen since the last show. At the Michigan fall show we had the chance to not only catch up with people, but an animal who used to live on our farm - Max! Maxito is now owned by Picaso Alpacas and they had him at this show. ( ) It was so neat to see him. He has grown so much I would not have recognized him, but since I knew it was him, I could see the resemblance in his face. He won a 1st place ribbon in the shorn white class! How awesome for Max. We stopped by his pen to see him and he appeared to remember J, snuggling into him like he used to when he lived on our farm. I'm glad to see Max doing so well and enjoyed by his current owners.

What I have always enjoyed about the fall Michigan show is that they do a advertising on the radio and this year even on TV. What this does is draw in the public so there is a lot of foot traffic. It is fun to see people excited about seeing alpacas (maybe even for the first time ever). It's fun to explain to them the benefits of having alpacas and how the lifestyle works.

A neat thing about going to shows is meeting new people. Our stall was around farms that we have not had the chance to meet before. It is always good to connect to different farms. It's amazing what you can learn from other alpaca farmers in just 2.5 days. Every time we go to a show we are surprised how much information we come home knowing that we had not realized before. We do a fair amount of reading on alpacas, looking at different websites, and of course there is the hands on learning of the day to day care, but the amount we've learned at shows is by far more informative than any other source.

Another thing we've done at shows is to ask quite a few people to take a look at our animals to give honest feedback on them. This helps us evaluate if our males are worth considering for herdsire quality. It also helps us know what to do with breeding choices for our females. For example, if a female is great but lacks density, you need to bred her to a very dense male. It never hurts to get another opinion on your animal. We make sure they understand we want the honest truth. There a time for telling me my cria is cute, and there is a time to be honest about what shortcomings it may have. There is no perfect alpaca, we are all forever striving for that. Every alpaca could use something to improve upon. We want to make sure we identify what that is.

We also make a point of looking at the other animals in the same class as our animals. It is especially important to see the one who placed 1st, when yours took a lower ranking. For example, Tehya did not win the color championship, so we went to look at the one who did. This helps us identify a great alpaca when we see one, to know what to look for. Most of the time when we really look at the other animal, we can see why they placed higher. It helps us know what our animal lacks, so we can make good breeding choices for her. It also helps us know how to do a good evaluation of our animals back at the farm.

When farmers spend too much time on their own farm and not at shows or visiting other farms you can get what they call "barn blind." This is when you think your alpacas are awesome. You look at them and marvel, but you have nothing to compare them too. Of course your cria are better than their mom (they should be if you have a good breeding program). But, are they show quality? And if they are show quality, how good are they? You can get to thinking yours are so incredible, when maybe they aren't. We had this happen when we took Maddie to shows. When we bought her and even had a couple other people look at her, everyone said how great she is "for a black". We thought she could do very well in the show ring. Not so. It turns out black alpacas have had such incredible improvements in a short time frame that Maddie did not compete. A few years ago she likely would have done well, but the industry is progressive and improvements are continually happening. I remember at one show we had her at, people in the audience were saying that black is getting too competitive, as much as white. This may be, but that is also why black alpaca fiber has had such incredible improvements. That is the way the industry is going. If you don't keep up, your alpacas will be left behind. By going to shows and seeing how she did, we were able to acknowledge her weaknesses. This is essential to make a good breeding choice for her.

I'm a big advocate of going to shows. We've done what we can to fit a few into our budget. I know in the current economy that many farms are cutting back on showing. This is understandable. However, there are ways to learn from shows while not spending as much. We cut back by only going to 1 fall show and only getting 1 stall at that show. We could have cut back even more by not showing our own animals, just attending the show. You can learn that way. Especially if you spend time going around and looking at the top placing animals. You could catch up with farms and meet new farms. Though, I don't think you would come home with as much information. So much happens between the stalls and outside the ring. But if there is no way you can afford to show, it is definitely better to attend than just stay home.
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