Anna Dellinger, Features Editor
Alpacas aren’t what naturally come to mind when one thinks of Shawnee, Okla. However, the Alpacas of Oklahoma are seeking to change that. Nov. 11 and 12, the Alpacas of Oklahoma (A-OK) held their annual Alpaca Blastoff in Shawnee’s Heart of Oklahoma Expo Center.
President of A-OK John Robinson oversaw the event this year. Robinson and his wife Janice run the Just Right Alpacas ranch and store in Jones, Okla., and brought three of their own alpacas to the Blastoff.
“TxOLAN and [the Alpaca Blastoff] are the two Midwest shows where most people go, and we have eight states represented this year,” Robinson said.
“Many people own alpacas as pets. This organization is designed to help people breed and make products [from alpacas].”
Alpacas of Oklahoma, an affiliate of the Alpaca Owners Association (AOA), holds two regional competitions in accordance with their motto: “Ethical promotion of all things alpaca.”
This is the 11th year of the Blastoff, and it has been held in Oklahoma City, Guthrie and Shawnee. The last three years, the event was held in Guthrie’s Lazy E Arena, but the decision was made to move back to Shawnee.
“We looked for the most affordable, most accessible show arena,” Robinson said. “It turns out that Shawnee has the best facility for price and the best location.”
The Alpaca Blastoff consisted of two main events: a halter show and a fleece competition. The halter show consisted of alpaca owners putting their alpacas on display in front of the judges, and each color category of alpacas has one champion.
The fleece competition required competitors to submit their alpaca fleeces by Nov. 10, and the fleece was then judged.
Alpaca fleece is the shearing that comes off the animal, and their hair is called fiber. Alpacas are usually shorn between mid-April and early May, and the process of removing the fleece is called harvesting.
The fleeces come off in three different ways. The fibers shorn from the trunk are softest and are used to make blankets. The fleece shorn from the head and shoulders is typically called secondary cutting and is used for outerwear, such as socks, gloves and sweaters. Whatever fibers are left over are put into rugs.
Some alpacas have fibers too dense to make any of the products mentioned above, so they are used in a process called “wet felting.” One product that comes out of wet felting is alpaca fiber balls, which are used in place of dryer sheets to de-wrinkle clothing and dry clothes faster.
In some places in South America, alpacas are also harvested for their meat. There are also some ranches in Colorado that make alpaca jerky.
“We don’t harvest the meat here in Oklahoma… [but] you can use just about everything the animal produces,” Robinson said.
Melodye McLeroy of Thackerville, Okla. drove about two hours to attend the Blastoff. It was her second year of attendance.
“I saw a commercial on television about 15 years ago [advertising alpacas] and so I bought two that were pet quality, just to see if I really like the animals and how well I could work with them,” McLeroy said. “[Now,] I own 21. We’ll be doing our first show in February at TxOLAN in Ft. Worth.”
McLeroy said she would recommend this event to other people.
“I’m here because I’m raising alpacas, and this is a great opportunity to find out what the proper characteristics of the animals and the fiber [are],” she said.
“Alpaca fiber will be a significant part of our future as far as the textile industry. [The Blastoff is] a great family event. And, it’s a great event to be exposed to the alpaca industry. It’s a great cottage industry, if you enjoy livestock.”
There are 176 alpaca farms in Oklahoma, but nation-wide there are more than 3,500. Alpaca fiber is a specialty textile in high demand. But, the industry could be even bigger, Robinson said.
“In order for us to have a viable commercial market in the U.S., we need to increase the herd size tenfold,” he said.
Several OBU students attended the Alpaca Blastoff on Saturday as well.
“I like alpacas and I want to learn more about them and how I can take over the world with them someday,” sophomore elementary and early childhood education major Abby Rogers said.
Mitchell Lee, freshman digital media arts major, went because of Rogers, his girlfriend.
“My girlfriend is obsessed with alpacas, so I brought her,” Lee said. “My favorite alpaca is the one that looked like me.”
Sheridan Wiles, sophomore digital media arts major also attended because of Rogers, one of her best friends.
“I’ve never been to an alpaca convention before and I thought it sounded interesting,” Wiles said.
To be put in a box: Alpaca Fun Facts
Alpaca fiber is some of the most expensive in the world – it can be sold for $80-$100 per pound.
Alpaca poop makes great mulch and fertilizer.
Alpacas spit at each other – or at people – when they’re mad.
They don’t like to be touched on the ears.
Alpacas are social animals because they’re very vulnerable prey without their herd.
Their teeth are only on the bottom. So, they won’t rip out grass, and they can’t bite.
You can put them with goats or horses.
A baby alpaca is called a cria.
A group of alpacas is called a herd.
Alpaca fiber is one of the warmest fibers in existence.
Alpacas hum sometimes, kind of like a cat purring.
Alpacas are in the camelid family, related to llamas, vicuñas, guanacos and camels.