Irresistible alpacas at a southern Minnesota expo

One of many trailers parked around the Four Seasons Centre.
Photo by Audrey Kletscher Helbling
One of many trailers parked around the Four Seasons Centre.

I SHOULDN’T HAVE BEEN SURPRISED by the overpowering odor of manure upon entering the Four Seasons Centre in Owatonna Sunday afternoon. After all, several hundred alpacas sheltered in one place will smell. But I’ve been away from the farm way too many decades.

I learned about the Suri breed of alpaca, which resemble mops to me.
Photo by Audrey Kletscher Helbling
I learned about the Suri breed of alpaca, which resemble mops to me.

Just like any offensive odor, though, after awhile I adapted and mostly forgot about the smell for focusing on observing and learning about alpacas at the 7th annual Minnesota Alpaca Expo.

Snuggling in after judging.
Photo by Audrey Kletscher Helbling
Snuggling in after judging. Look at that sweet face.

You can’t be among alpacas for long without the cuteness factor winning you over. Such sweet faces.

Eyes buried in fleece.
Photo by Audrey Kletscher Helbling
Eyes buried in fleece.

And wonderment about how these animals can even see, many with eyes buried deep within their coats.

I sunk my hands deep into the soft fleece of the brown alpaca and declared I wanted to take the animal home.
Photo by Audrey Kletscher Helbling
I sunk my hands deep into the soft fleece of the brown alpaca and declared I wanted to take the animal home. The smallest from Ocean Road Alpacas near Janesville, MN., earned the highest placing among this trio in competition.

Fleece so soft you want to cuddle these members of the camelid family.

In one of my favorite shots, a woman connects with an alpaca.
Photo by Audrey Kletscher Helbling
In one of my favorite shots, a woman connects with an alpaca.

Curious temperaments cause alpacas to cozy near curious onlookers.

Stickers on a vehicle parked outside Four Seasons Centre.
Photo by Audrey Kletscher Helbling
Stickers on a vehicle parked outside Four Seasons Centre.

Yet, this event is about more than entertaining outsiders like me. This expo is serious stuff with alpaca owners traveling from throughout the Midwest and as far away as Oregon to showcase their animals.

Award-winning alpacas.
Photo by Audrey Kletscher Helbling
Award-winning alpacas.

Coveted ribbons bring respect (and sales) of breeding stock and fleece.

In the show ring.
Photo by Audrey Kletscher Helbling
In the show ring.

As I watched owners line up with their alpacas during judging, I realized the importance of this expo.

In the judging ring.
Photo by Audrey Kletscher Helbling
In the judging ring.

Judges check fleece (for crimp and density, etc.) and even testicles, plus a whole lot more. I didn’t seek out an in-depth education.

Lots of fans were in place to cool the alpacas.
Photo by Audrey Kletscher Helbling
Lots of fans were in place to cool the alpacas.

Rather I was more interested in observing these long-necked creatures who are native to the Andes Mountains region of Chile, Peru and Bolivia. As such, they are comfortable in a cold weather state like Minnesota. On a day when the outdoor air temp hovered around 60 degrees and the inside temp about the same, alpacas risked overheating in their wooly coats. So owners positioned fans around pens, cool breezes fanning across the animals’ backs. I was told that alpaca fleece is warmer than wool.

My husband found the chalk-like alpaca outline on rugs to be rather amusing.
Photo by Audrey Kletscher Helbling
My husband found the chalk-like alpaca outlines on rugs to be rather amusing.

For the most part, alpacas appear laid back and friendly. But then I remembered something about spitting and inquired, lest an alpaca spit on my treasured camera. Forward movement of an alpaca’s ears put me on alert. Seems if I didn’t pose a threat, I’d be OK. So I backed off with the camera a bit just in case a particular animal misunderstood.

Vendors sold alpaca related and other products.
Photo by Audrey Kletscher Helbling
Vendors sold alpaca related and other products.

Interestingly enough, one alpaca tender told me alpacas don’t necessarily like to be petted. At least not his.

A sample of the offerings from Gone Batty Fibers based in Eagan.
Photo by Audrey Kletscher Helbling
A sample of the vendor offerings, this yarn spun from silk, from Gone Batty Fibers based in Eagan.
Cute alpaca toys.
Photo by Audrey Kletscher Helbling
Alpaca toy cuteness.
More cuteness in the softest teddy bears ever.
Photo by Audrey Kletscher Helbling
More cuteness in the softest teddy bears ever.
More stunning hand-dyed yarn, this from Whispering Oaks Alpacas.
Photo by Audrey Kletscher Helbling
More stunning hand-dyed yarn, these from Whispering Oaks Alpacas.
This woman spins fiber into yarn. I also observed two women grading alpaca fiber.
Photo by Audrey Kletscher Helbling
This woman spins fiber into yarn. I also observed two women grading alpaca fiber.

While I stroked several alpacas, I caressed way more shorn fleece, yarn, and clothing and crafts created from alpaca fleece than I did animals.

Pure Goodness, a vendor from Farmington, was handing out samples of handcrafted luxury soap.
Photo by Audrey Kletscher Helbling
Pure Goodness, a vendor from Farmington, was handing out samples of handcrafted luxury soap. After touching all those alpacas, I probably should have washed my hands before stopping at a downtown ice cream shop later.

And I tried to watch my step for the errant manure missed by the broom.

This post was written by Audrey Kletscher Helbling and originally published on  Minnesota Prairie Roots.

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