Sunday, September 26, 2010

color check

On Friday I planned my day so that I could volunteer as a color check, later in the day, at the Michigan International Alpaca Fest. I already had to do a home visit on that side of the state for work, so I arranged to do that early on Friday afternoon. No sense making that trip more than once in a few weeks time. From the home visit, it was only a short jog on the highway to Flint, Michigan.

First I want to say that I know there is a lot of work that goes into planning an alpaca show. And, since I'm not volunteering to run one, I don't want to be too critical. There must be reasons for why they do what they do. I did wonder, why do they host the show in Flint, Michigan? That would not be the ideal location to me (to put it in perspective, there is bullet proof glass around the check in desk at the closest hotel, I know because that is where we stayed last year). I wonder what people from out of state think about our state, basing it on their arrival in Flint. On the positive, the arena appears well maintained, is nice, and does have security around. And, even in the hotel, I never once felt I was in danger. My other question would be, why do they schedule the show for the same weekend as National Alpaca Farm Days? Shouldn't we be advocating for alpaca farmers to be home, having an open farm on this weekend? We've been to quite a few shows, and the venue here is not one I'd advocate for. The arena is fine, but the location in the town is odd. Though I will give them a lot of credit for getting the word out to the community. I know we have always had a lot of foot traffic at this show, more so than most shows we've attended. This is one of the only shows we've heard about on the radio when we drive into the show.

As for being a color check, I wasn't sure what to expect. I knew I'd get my hands on a lot of animals. I was excited about what incredible fiber I would see. People have told me I'd learn a lot.

To color check, you need to open up each alpaca's fiber, and match it to the color on the color chart:

It sounds easy enough, but sometimes it's tricky. Some animals come in a color between two shades on the chart. Sometimes an alpaca owner has a strong opinion on what color their animal is, other times they want to ask you all sorts of questions (like what qualifies an animal as pinto and so forth). Rules are that the color has to be checked right next to the skin. Sometimes this is a different shade than what is further out. Also, any disagreement in color can be taken over to the judges for final decision. I don't care to argue (or even begin a debate) so if anyone questioned what I came up with as the color, I encouraged them to take it to the judge. In the end the judge is the one who determines if they are in the right class anyway. I think we had a good system going where at least two of us doing color check would look at the color and come to a consensus on it.

Maybe I had too high of expectations of what great fiber I'd see, because I didn't feel like I saw anything new or informative. We have a variety of fiber quality on our farm. We have some alpacas who didn't place in a show, and others who have won first place. Most of the fiber I saw there was right in line with what we have on our farm. I should have known that's what I'd see. We show, we could have come to this show (last year we did and came home with two 1st place girls). There were some I color checked that I feel we have better. There were a couple who were incredible, I would have loved to have taken home to add to our breeding program. I do feel like we are already working on producing that level here. I guess I did have too high of expectations. I mean, we have been to a lot of shows. We do walk around and look at a lot of animals while at the shows. We certainly seek out the color champions. I have had my hands on a lot of animals. I think if I were just beginning (had done color check 3 years ago), I would have felt like I learned something doing it. I did learn something about myself. That is that I am much more discerning about what animals I want. In the past I'd see an animal from a distance and make a judgement based on how they looked (isn't it cute!). Now, I want to dig in their fiber, see their crimp, bundling and feel their handle. It's so important to touch them and discover how they feel. We are to the point we are looking for specific fiber traits to add to our herd to take us to the next level. Three years ago I would not have noticed the big differences between animal's fiber, which today are so important to me.

Not to say I know or have seen it all. Things change so fast in this industry, you really have to stay on top of it. We've observed this especially with the grey alpacas. If you aren't making huge leaps each year in quality, you'll be left behind. Three years ago a grey could do well in the show ring just being grey. Then greys starting having crimp, now they not only have crimp, but are fine with less guard hair and so forth. It has changed incredibly fast in a very short time. Every generation needs to be built upon for the next generation in order to improve the fiber quality.

I certainly will continue to seek out animals at shows. I will make an effort to see and feel the color champions. I will continue to learn about fiber and improve upon our herd's fiber traits. While I'm happy to feel like we have done a great job in learning about fiber, I don't want to stop learning. There is always something to learn and improve upon.


Noah and Jillian Schwander said...

Do you know what the turn out for the show ended up being like? I know they were having a tough time getting people to attend this year...probably because of the crumby economy.

Oak Haven Alpacas said...

I heard the final number but I've forgotten what it was. I know it was less than last year. But, that's true for so many shows.


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