Sunday, May 15, 2011

Question of the Week

I've had several people ask me lately why we are doing so well in the show ring. This is a much more loaded question than I think people realize. I think the best way to answer it is to explain how we got where we are.

First, we started out with show quality females. It's always important to breed a girl up, but if you are starting with a lower quality female, you have much more breeding up to do. Our first two girls, Kateri and Victoria, had been shown and did respectable. Kateri won 1st and 2nd in her day. Victoria didn't do quite a well in the show, but her fiber has no crimp (in another post I'll show fiber and what crimp and bundling and structure mean). I said from the beginning a Victoria with crimp would do great in a show, and her offspring, Shelby and Challenger have.

But, we haven't always done great in the show ring. While waiting for Victoria and Kateri's cria to be old enough to show, we had some other yearlings that we acquired. We were so excited to bring them to shows, and couldn't wait to hear what the judge had to say. We were crushed that first show. Every one of the three alpacas we brought either came in last place or got the gate (which is essentially last place too). That first show season was rough. For anyone reading this who has had a rough time in the show ring, believe me when I say I know how that feels. I have been there. When I see farmers at a show having that same experience I really feel for them. It's tough. But trust me when I say most other alpaca farmers are willing and will help you. We certainly welcome it. Having been there, we know how difficult it can be. Ask questions, get your hands on other farm's animals, ask other alpaca farmers to evaluate your animals. If what you are doing isn't working, it's time for a change. The hard truth is that you will have to give up on ideas you are sure are true in order to get to that new spot where you want to be. It's a process, at times a very difficult process.

Thankfully we had several more experienced alpaca farmers take us under their wing and helped us tremendously. We learned so much, at every show we went to (and still do). We got our hands on the color champions, so we know what is winning in the show ring. We have other alpaca farmers evaluate our animals. We discussed fiber with many different alpacas farmers to get their opinion on things. We talked to big farms and small farms. In addition to the hands on personal information, we also do a ton of research online. Not everything you hear or read will be right, and I think that's where the biggest difficulty comes in. You will need to filter the information. I think this can be the most tricky part, because if you are holding onto a false truth as being the truth, you will miss what is really going on. You need to be honest and open and accepting of things you might not want to be true.

I know there are farms who never show, or used to show but felt they couldn't complete with the big farms so they no long show. I hear many opinions, and there are people who think the big farms have all the resources and the rest of us can't compete with them. I don't agree. I think we can compete. We just have to be smarter because we have less resources. I don't have a 20 time color banner winning male in the pasture to use on my girls, I don't have a big bank account to buy whatever breeding I want. But we can make wise decisions and create the kind of fiber that will win in the show ring.

They say it's important to have a goal for your farm. In the 3.5 years we've built our alpaca farm, we have refined our goal. It started out with the desire to combine both breeding for show quality alpacas, and hands on use of the wonderful fiber they create. (When we started in this industry farms typically did one or the other, few were involved in both. As the economy has changed this is changing within the industry.) We have refined this goal to a certain type of fiber we want to create, one that is show quality, but also great for making into yarn. We look at our breeding females and match them up with a male who has what they need. J has done extensive research into fiber histograms. He wants to see the alpaca's histogram before making a breeding choice. He has specific stats that he is looking to create in our cria's fiber. I admit I go more on the look of the fiber and the feel, but his input is essential in making the right match. Every breeding choice on our farm is specific and deliberate, based on hours of research into fiber specifics (not just who is open and what male haven't we used yet or by color). J has spent hours and hours researching, reading and learning about alpacas, fiber, and breeding.

Not so say every breeding will result in the right alpaca or the exact fiber we want. It's nature and the traits you want to show through won't always do so. But even the big farms create a fiber boy here and there. The difference would be on a big farm the fiber animals never see the show ring, they only show the top 10% of their cria. On a smaller farm like ours, all our cria get to at least one show.

There is also the fact that the industry is constantly changing. What would win a 1st place in the show ring even two years ago is now coming in 3rd or 4th place. Every year there are advancements in the alpaca's fiber. One of the reasons we go to as many shows as we do it to keep up with the changes and see what other farms are producing.

I guess the short answer to why we've done so well in the show ring is because of our hard work in learning and applying that to our farm to reach our specific goal. Our dream is to stay true to our farm goal and continue to produce the kind of alpacas that we can be proud of.

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