Last weekend, 80 breeders and exhibitors of the country's rarest livestock descended upon the International Horse Park in Conyers for the Royal Alpaca Challenge.
"The goal for the show is to bring owners and breeders together for a number of different reasons," said Courtney Williams, co-owner of Lasso the Moon Alpaca Farm in Blairsville. "Primarily to be able to compare your animals."
"Everyone walks into their barn and gets a little ‘barn blindness,'" Williams said, "And you've got to step out and really see ‘how is my breeding program?' ‘How are the animals I'm developing comparing to others in the region and the country?'"
Caroline Mixon, owner of Carodel Alpacas in Flowery Branch, has 70 registered alpacas, "The U.S. is really small potatoes when it comes to other countries because our herd is like maybe 150,000."
Mixon said the alpaca rarity here is due to the fact that importation from Peru is shut off, "Peru is not exporting anymore. It was their national treasure. Too many (alpacas) got out before they realized what was happening."
The Royal Alpaca Challenge was a halter show for owners and breeders of the two types of alpacas; the Huacaya (wa-kai-a), looks wooly and its fiber grows parallel to the body, and the Suri (sur-ry), considered to have soft, luxurious draped fiber since their locks grow perpendicular to the body.
The Huacaya and the Suri are judged separately, broken down by sex, color - which are sub-divided into color classes - and then age.
All second and first place winners within their group compete in the final championship at the Challenge for a color champion and a reserve color champion.
"We took two color championships," Williams said of his entries. "We took Fawn Male Color Championship (3 years and older age group); and Light Male Color Championship (yearling age group).
Alpaca are judged either on a 50-50 fiber and conformation (structure of the animal's body) combination, or on a 60 percent fiber, 40 percent conformation basis. The individual show has a choice to go with either one of the judging criteria.
"Fiber is just as important if not more important in the judging," Williams said.
The Royal Alpaca Challenge was a halter show, which meant the animals were shown with full fleece on its body.
There are other types of alpaca shows explained Williams, "You also have fleece shows where you shear the animal, put the fleece in a bag and then a judge in a room goes through the fleece but never sees the animal.
"Then there are composite shows, where an owner will shear the animal, bring the animal and its bag of fleece with it. It comes to the show shorn (to be judged on conformation)," Williams said.
In a halter class, judges want to make sure an alpaca is put together properly and that it has an acceptable gait. "They want to make sure that it's not cow-hocked in the back, or crooked legs in the front, or has bad teeth, or that the ears aren't right, a crook in the tail," Williams said.
"Conformation is huge when you're talking about breeding stock; you want to be producing animals that can give you the longest breeding life and good conformation is indicative of that."
An owner or breeder does not have to be a member of an alpaca association, but an alpaca has to be registered in the Alpaca Registry, Inc. to be eligible to participate in a show.
Williams, who was the barn and arena coordinator for the Challenge, felt the event was a successful endeavor. "We're one of the few shows that actually pay prize money and that's becoming very popular for those who are in attendance at the event. It's also a great networking opportunity."
But why own an alpaca?
Mixon said of her beloved herd, "Their end use is high-end fiber products, mainly men, women's suiting, exquisite outerwear. I have them because they weren't sacrificed for the product and they live longer than my dogs."