Atlanta Area Alpaca Events Review
This fall was ripe with opportunities to visit with one of our pastimes cutest fiber animals: the alpaca!In mid September there was the Alpaca Fiber Festival in lovely Callaway gardens, at the end of September there was Alpaca Farm days at Thunder River Alpacas. In Early October Thunder River Alpacas hosted a herd health day, and lastly, Georgia’s Royal Alpaca challenge was held over the first weekend of November. The Southeastern Animal Fiber Festival also occurred this fall, but was not alpaca exclusive.
For the uninitiated: Alpacas are members of the camelid family that originated in South America. They have been growing in popularity as a livestock investment opportunity in the United States and as a result their fiber is becoming much better known in the states. There are two types, the hucaya and the suri. The main difference between the two is the fiber produced by the animals. Hucayas have lofty fiber with body and crimp, and often look like fluffy teddy bears, while suris have lustrous smooth fiber that tends to drape in locks over their bodies.
The Alpaca Fiber Festival was hosted at Callaway Gardens September 14-16th, and while there were no live alpacas to be seen, they were still the focus of the event. Classes were offered on fiber preparation and production, including carding and spinning, knitting, weaving, felting and crochet. There was a vendor room with a number of different shops/vendors offering a wide array of alpaca fiber craft related goodies. Most, if not all the classes and meetings were held in the Mountain Creek Conference Center, and attendees could stay at the adjoining inn or in one of Callaway’s cottages. The event promises to be a good option for those who might not be able to trek all the way out to the Southeastern Animal Fiber Festival in NC, or those who prefer a festival that is more like a conference than an agricultural expo.
Thunder River Alpacas opened their farm to the public on September 29th and offered crafting demos and farm tours. It was a well-attended event, with a fairly constant crowd of people flocking down to the barn to view the alpacas, even in the drizzling rain. Thunder River had just welcomed a new cria (baby alpaca) to the farm less than a week prior to the Farm Days weekend, and he was a tiny crowd pleaser. Dennis and Rose, the farm owners, were available to answer any questions and were excellent hosts. Up at the farmhouse, there were knitters and both types of spinners using alpaca fiber.
The farm store was open and had a number of exquisite alpaca fiber products, from raw and processed fiber to full garments. They also had an impressive amount of entertaining alpaca t-shirts available.
Thunder River also hosted a Herd Health Day on October 20th for those who didn’t get enough alpaca action during farm days. This event gave participants the chance to get hands on with the animals and assist Dennis and Rose in catching, weighing, and checking the overall health of the animals along with assisting with pedicures!
All the females and very young cria were caught and assessed during the course of the morning and two breeding opportunities were set up, although the girls just weren’t interested in their dates that day. It was an excellent opportunity to get to be up close with the animals and see what is involved in the care and keeping of alpacas. It was impressive to see how well Dennis and Rose know their animals, even though a number of them look very similar. Also impressive was the range of personalities exhibited throughout the herd. Some animals were easy going and walked right on the scale, others were extremely unhappy about being handled and needed to be approached with a degree of caution, and still others acted like a cat in a harness for the first time, dropping to the ground to avoid having to cooperate for any of the process. Before lunch, there was a good discussion of the financial and time commitment aspects of being in the alpaca business and then it was back to the pens for the juveniles. This event wasn’t for everyone, it did involve being in the field with the animals and there was a slight chance of injury and a high chance of getting spit on, but for anyone who dreams about keeping alpacas in the backyard, it’s a must do.
The Royal Alpaca Challenge is an event held every September that brings alpaca farms from as far as Ohio to compete and show their animals. Shows are held throughout the weekend, allowing the best alpacas to shine in halter and performance classes. Halter classes judge the animals on their color, coat and conformation, very similar to the Westminster AKC Dog show. Performance classes are an obstacle course that the alpacas must navigate with a handler. The Royal Alpaca Challenge also hosts a spin-off, which lets farms compete on fiber alone. The event is open to the public, and visitors can walk through the pens to oooh and ahh over the assorted animals waiting to show. They can watch the showing, which goes almost all day long. Performance is the most entertaining to watch, halter is more serious. Many of the farm owners are happy to answer any questions you may have.
It may seem like there’s little for the knitter but there is a knitter’s lounge at the RAC. The knitter’s lounge held vendors, a silent auction, a photo contest and spin-off results or you could bring your knitting and/or spinning wheel and enjoy some fiber fun in the spinners circle and fiber related demonstrations. There were stations to learn to spin with a drop spindle or needle felt. The demos included skirting and sorting fiber, carding fiber, loom weaving and wheel spinning. This year they also added a small selection of classes, like beginners knitting and crochet, and triloom weaving.
A new alpaca adventure to try is located in Powder Springs. Sharon Bogenschutz offers farm tours and tea at her restored farmhouse, Georgian Oaks Farm Suri Alpacas. Several AKG members ventured out to the farm in May and enjoyed hearing the history of the farmhouse, lots of information on alpacas and a lovely “high tea.” It was a rainy day, so we only viewed wet alpacas out briefly before they took cover. We watched demonstrations of “skirting” an alpaca fleece and the fiber being carded to get ready for spinning. Sharon has a small shop within the farmhouse with alpaca fiber, yarn, and handmade buttons. The website to check out this new offering is: www.suribunni.com. Tours will be offered from May-October for $30 with reservations necessary.