SYRACUSE, NY — David Houseworth’s Revolutionary War-era ancestors would have scarcely imagined their farm in Trumansburg, NY would become an alpaca farm generations later. But Houseworth and his wife, Christine, have been raising the animals at Cabin View Alpacas for nearly 10 years for breeding and fiber and showing at events such as the recent Empire Showtacular.
“We did pretty well,” Christine said after the shows. “I was thrilled.”
The Showtacular included the Empire Alpaca Extravaganza and the New England Alpaca Owners and Breeders Association show.
At the first show, Cabin View won best male yearling and best black male. At the second show, Cabin View won first place for yearlings, and first place in black color for all ages, and first place two-year-old black and reserve champion black color.
And that was with just six of the farm’s 37 alpacas.
Alpaca showing differs in many ways from cow showing. Animal behavior and handler ability aren’t very important. Cleanliness isn’t as prized as in cow shows. In fact, judges forbid washing the animals, as conditioners applied to the coat could affect its tactile qualities.
Christine Houseworth said about 40 percent of showing is about conformity to breed characteristics and 60 percent is fleece quality, including fineness, density, uniformity, staple length and its softness. In the walking fleece competition, it’s all about the fleece.
Judges often spend several minutes with each animal, examining the coat, comparing individual hairs with those of other exhibitors in the class, and with breed standards.
“You do try to keep them clean, but we’re not allowed to groom beyond trimming their heads and topknots,” Christine Houseworth said.
Judges expect animals to arrive in the ring in “paddock conditions” but some breeders keep their show animals in a carpeted area in the barn to keep them cleaner before shows.
“If they’re filthy, it would affect the feeling of the fleece,” Houseworth added. “The overall game is the product you get.”
When the couple first decided to get into alpacas, Christine wasn’t interested in showing. After attending a few shows, “we got bit by the bug” to show, she said.
To improve the animals’ showing, she begins training them to walk on a halter after weaning.
“They are smart and learn it pretty quickly,” she said. “We teach them to stand and hopefully they’ll stand in the ring.”
Nutrition represents one important aspect of animal care that affects the fleece.
“You want to make sure that they’re healthy animals because if they’re not, the fleece will break and the tensile strength will be weak,” Houseworth said. “If you overfeed them, it’s not healthy either.”
Their herd munches orchard grass in their 10 acres of pasture starting in April. They receive supplemental hay as needed. They purchase hay and provide grain formulated for alpacas as a supplement for pregnant and nursing alpacas. Rotational grazing helps maintain pasture health. The Houseworths own 37 animals and co-own three.
“They are superior herd sires,” Houseworth said of their co-owned animals. A farm in Tennessee co-owns the animals with them.
Alpaca gestation is 11.5 months, which means the southern farm can breed later in the year without fear of animals dropping babies in the pasture in cold weather.
The Houseworths sell some of their fleece wholesale and have a mill make some of it into yarn to sell at their farm’s shop. The Houseworths carry products from the New England Alpaca Fiber Pool, a fiber processor for alpaca farms nationwide, and from Peru. Local artisans in the community also make goods sold in the shop, including alpaca fiber items, jellies and candles.
“We are in an ideal spot on the Cayuga Lake Wine Trail,” Houseworth said. “People see the sign and stop.”
The farm also hosts the National Alpaca Farm Days, with fiber demonstrations, antique and classic vehicles on display and various vendors.
Houseworth said alpaca fiber offers a few advantages, such as its lack of lanolin. Unlike sheep fleece, alpaca fleece doesn’t require chemicals for processing to remove lanolin.
“It’s pretty much hoof to garment,” Houseworth said. “You wash and card it, but from there, you could spin it into yarn.”
People who cannot tolerate wearing wool because of its lanolin can wear garments made from alpaca fiber.
Producers find the animals are easy on pasture, as they bite off grass like horses rather than pull it like cows.
Houseworth advises a person interested in raising alpacas to talk someone who has experience for help. Though Houseworth grew up raising Black Angus, raising alpacas presented a learning curve that helpful mentors helped her overcome.
The couple decided to raise alpacas on a lark. They performed some research, visited a few farms and soon purchased their first alpacas. Those interactions, along with showing, have led to many friendships.
“We’ve met the best people from all over the country we wouldn’t have otherwise met,” she said. “We all went out to dinner the last night of the show, about 17 of us. It’s been very interesting. It’s all friendly competition most of the time.”
The Empire Alpaca Showtacular ran Oct. 19-22. The annual event included competitions, demonstrations, workshops and vendors.