There are many aspects of show preparation, some that should be made running up to the show season and others that can be done well in advance of this time. Preparing for shows can be as simple as choosing which show you would like to go to in time to get your animals entered, trained and go to the show or …… You can spend much more time and look to the future shows and start preparing with your breeding programme. Show preparation should be considered whether you are entering halter classes or fleece shows. Some areas to focus on are grooming, preparing fleeces, your breeding program, halter training, and presenting your alpaca along with yourself.
“Groom your pastures not your animals”
If you have had any experience showing other animals, you will be pleased to know that there is no grooming or shampooing necessary in showing alpacas. So unlike the cattle lines we do not have to get up at 3 am to start grooming the alpacas! However, you need to make sure your alpacas’ fleeces are clean, and this should be a critical part of the management of your animals whether you are showing or not, because at the end of the day alpacas are bred for their fleece. The easiest way to keep your fleeces clean is to keep your paddocks clean. Make sure there isn’t anything in the fields that will get in their fleeces. Remove all cleavers, thistles, docks, nettles, conkers, beech mast, brambles, etc. Basically anything with seeds or anything else that will get stuck in their fleeces. It is also advisable to put your show team in a paddock that does not need topping. Freshly topped grass is a nightmare to get out of fleeces. Learned this one the hard way! If your alpacas come out of the paddocks clean and ready for showing, life is much easier. After all, the BAS rulebook states that they should be shown in ‘paddock condition’.
An alternative to halter classes, which requires less commitment in time but still gives your farm publicity, is entering fleece classes. Again this needs to have some preparation. At Bozedown when we are shearing and sorting our fleeces we are always looking out for that show fleece to come across the sorting table. We sort all of our fleeces as they come off the animals and we know exactly whose fleece we are sorting. When a show fleece is spotted, then we carefully skirt the fleece and make sure that there aren’t any second cuts on the underside of the fleece. Having a good shearer is very important both for show fleeces and for commercial fibre. Once we are happy that the fleece has been properly skirted and is clear of any vegetation, we fold the fleece in half lengthwise and put it in a large clear plastic bag. We label the fleece with the alpacas name, tag number and date that it was sheared. These fleeces are then stored in a dry, moth free and clean area awaiting the next year’s fleece classes.
As shows are getting earlier in the season it is important to be looking this year when you shear, for your fleeces to show either later this year or next year. Showing fleeces is also a way for breeders to show off their prize breeding females without the added stress of the female going to the show. So for those of you with fantastic fleeces in your herd but don’t show in halter classes, or even if you do, get your fleeces entered.
Your breeding programme should be considered as part of your show preparation. What shows would you like to participate in? What time of year is the show? If you want to show your juniors, will they be old enough? Will they have enough fleece or will they be over-fleeced? When do you need to start training? How do you get the alpacas ready for showing?
If your crias are born early in the spring and you want to show at various shows throughout the season the following year, you need to consider length of fleece. With a country of high quality alpacas the juniors are now producing vast amounts of fleece, which is great until you get into a show situation and your alpaca is suddenly over-fleeced, so that what once was a beautiful fleece is no longer holding together and your beautiful alpaca needs to be shorn not shown. One way to help avoid this from happening and to avoid trimming (as this is not paddock condition) is to cria shear. We tend to cria shear in the middle of July and we do all the crias that are at least a month old. This removes all the fluff and allows the fleece to grow back more organised and will help prevent the crias from being over-fleeced in the next show season. Cria shearing in July also allows enough time for the crias to grow back enough fleece before winter arrives.
Alpacas are quick to learn so they don’t need vast amounts of time put into their training. Depending on how much time you have or how many alpacas you need to train before a show will depend on when you get started. I don’t recommend training your youngsters until after they have been weaned if you can avoid it. Once they have been weaned there is no risk of imprinting. We start our training at least a month before the first show, ideally two months. We use a mixture of methods but we keep the training to about 5 – 10 minutes an animal, a couple of times a week. Always end the training on a positive note and have a correctly fitted head collar. If a head collar is not fitted correctly the alpaca will focus its attention on the position of the head collar rather than focusing on the training and what you want is for it to learn. Teaching mature males to lead is very easy, put the head collar and lead rope on and lead them to a female. They catch on very quickly!
If you are getting ready for your first show do not be intimidated by showing; anyone can show and not all animals behave perfectly their first time showing. I also find that with some animals that just don’t seem to be progressing forward in the training, it helps if you take them to a new area. If you live along a quiet road, take them for a walk along there; you don’t have to go far but it is different from their paddocks and new and interesting, and before long they are so interested in what is around them they forget that they are not supposed to walk! They tend to react the same way when they get to a show, so if they are not perfect before a show don’t worry. Take them! They generally surprise you, and if they don’t you won’t be the only one there with an alpaca who does not behave one hundred percent.
Presenting your Alpaca Well
However, how you present yourself and your alpaca in the ring does make a difference. Some animals walk into the ring, head held high and demand the public and the judges attention. Others can seem to slouch into the ring. With these animals a good handler can make all the difference. Not only should you be training your alpacas, you need to train your handlers and each alpaca may have a slightly different requirement to feel comfortable on the lead. Some prefer you to walk slightly in front, others beside you, either on a short or a long lead. Knowing these things about the alpaca you take into the ring helps to present them well for the judge, so they can judge them fairly and accurately. It is also important to not only train your animals to walk but also so that they can be looked at in the ring, teeth, fleece and genitalia.
Before heading to the show, take one last look through the alpacas to make sure all toenails are trimmed, topknots are tidy and do any dagging that is necessary. Judges do not appreciate lifting a tail to check genitalia and instead finding a nasty surprise! You may find that you move to the back of the line. Also make sure all your alpacas are healthy and strong and have no signs of fresh mites (check bellies, armpits and under the tail).
Showing in halter classes or fleece classes is a good way to meet people, get your herd known and have fun with your alpacas. It is also a great way to have your alpacas critiqued by the judges, which can be either very informative or a steep learning curve!