Attendees of the Empire Alpaca Showtacular saw a familiar — though much bigger — face this year. Log Cabin Alpacas brought back a yearling that had attended last year’s event as a prematurely born animal, that was then along for the ride because she needed constant care. This year, the bay black alpaca took home first in walking fleece for the Empire Alpaca Extravaganza and fifth overall for yearling black and second for bay black color (the judged combined the color classes). The other three Log Cabin Alpacas’ animals competing won fourth, fifth and sixth places.
The animals’ owners, Karen Clark and Helen Harris, felt pleased that their alpacas did so well at the double-show weekend, hosted at the New York State Fairgrounds Oct. 19-22.
Located in Harpursville, NY, Log Cabin Alpacas provides seven acres of mixed grass for its 44 alpacas, supplemented by purchased hay.
“It’s special, alpaca hay with alfalfa and a few other things in it,” Clark said. “I feed them grain, too.”
Clark rotates where the animals graze about every three to four days among her five pastures.
“Then you can constantly keep pasture for them,” she said.
She added that alpacas like second or third cutting hay. When offered hay they don’t like, they often pick through the hay until they find what they want.
The animals receive grain twice a week in the summertime and four times weekly in the winter. Young and pregnant alpacas may eat grain on demand.
She has been surprised at the animals’ intelligence. For example, Clark has “litter trained” the animals so they eliminate only in a box of sawdust and not in the barn.
“It took about a week to get them to do it,” she said.
Clark and Harris became interested in alpacas because of a local farm. Clark knew she would retire from teaching soon, and realized that since both she and Harris enjoyed being outdoors, co-owning animals could provide something for Clark to do.
Though raised as livestock for their fleece, “they take your heart away and become part of your family,” Clark said.
The premature alpaca Clark raised lived in the house, wearing diapers, for three weeks until it could manage outside. And that wasn’t the only time she has hand-raised a wee alpaca inside.
“Since I’m retired, I can be here all the time for them,” Clark said.
Clark and Harris sell their animals’ fleeces through a farm in Maine and through the New England Alpaca Fiber Pool.
Clark advises people interested in raising and showing alpacas to “find someone who will mentor you. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. There are no silly questions. We enjoy it. We’re both athletes and we enjoy the competition. We’ve met so many wonderful people.”
The duo shows locally and also takes at least one big alpaca show trip annually, such as Massachusetts, Tennessee and Virginia. These experiences help them connect with other producers who can help them learn more about the industry. Clark likes talking with owners of smaller farms and encourages people new to alpacas to network with them, too.
“I strongly suggest visiting several different farms,” Clark said. “I took lots of ideas from lots of places. Don’t be afraid to look around to see different things.”
“We always say, ‘Don’t always run to a big farm to look at animals.’ Big farms may tell you what you want to hear. Little ones will be honest with you. The larger farms won’t mentor you as much and may leave you high and dry. As a new owner, you need more help than that. You need those tips.”