All things alpaca

Have you ever hugged an alpaca? Or even met one?

This weekend’s Alpaca Affaire Northwest offers a free opportunity to get up close and personal with these personable animals and to learn more about them.

“There will be about 100 animals there, so people can see lots of colors, sizes and shapes,” said Bobbie Hunhoff, president of Alpaca Ranchers of the Northwest, the show organizers.

The animals are raised for their fiber, and at the show, judging Saturday will focus on the fiber shorn from alpacas and Sunday on the shape, size and build of the animals. Success in both competitions is needed to take top honors.

“We will have naked alpacas, and their little fur coats will be in another room,” Hunhoff said, laughing.

But the show is family-friendly, with demonstrations of what can be done with alpaca fiber, a coloring activity for kids, food and a vendor selling scarves, hats and other garments made from alpaca fiber.

“We want to make the show enjoyable for people who are already alpaca owners and for people who just want to come down and spend a nice day with their kids,” said Hunhoff of Onalaska.

The main attraction, though, are the animals themselves. And while they are livestock and not pets, they really are huggable.

“Yes, absolutely,” Hunhoff said. “There are people who will let you hug their animals, and some people will let you hug them when they’re out walking around.

“They can be as friendly as you want them to be,” she said. “If you spend time with them, they’ll be friendly to you, and if you don’t do much but feed them, they’ll be pretty aloof.”

The animals, native to Bolivia, Chile and Peru, are related to llamas and camels. They typically weigh 125 to 175 pounds, stand about three feet tall at the shoulder and have plenty of personality.

“They like to be around people,” said Susan Olsen of Vader, one of the organizers of the show. “The STP (Seattle to Portland Bicycle Classic) goes right by our house. Those two days, all the alpacas did was hang out at the end of the field by the road, watching what was going on.

“There were people who would stop and chat with them.”

Chat? Really?

Well, the alpacas don’t speak English, of course, but they do vocalize.

“They hum,” Olsen said. “They even hum baby talk to their crias.” Baby alpacas are called crias.

“It’s just adorable,” she added. “They’re really sweet animals.”

The ranchers group has been having Alpaca Affaire for the past seven or eight years, Hunhoff said, and there’s been a definite upsurge in interest in ranching during that time.

“Alpacas are very ecologically sound,” she said. “They are very easy on the ground with their padded feet and the way they graze. They don’t tear the grass out by the roots. It will regrow.

“And their fiber is a renewable product.”