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Located in the mountains of Ashland, Oregon  
Mulberry Alpacas Saturday, 19 July, 2008  


Strong Auctions and Cheating in the Show Ring.

 The US market has been strong through spring and early summer with good prices at auctions and healthy demand on farms from both newcomers and existing breeders.

The 2005 AOBA national conference was in Salt Lake City and ran through the first week of June. At the auction, 67 lots went under the hammer for $1.722 million at an average price of $30,211 per alpaca.  A further nine lots were donated by generous AOBA members and raised $176,000 - a welcome addition to AOBA’s funds.  July the 4th weekend saw the “Parade of Champions” Auction at Pacific Crest Alpacas, near Portland. 69 lots went under the hammer for a grand total of $3.515 million - a new record for an auction, and an overall average selling price of almost $51,000. The global demand for top genetics is clearly in evidence and there were successful bidders from New Zealand, the United Kingdom and Australia at the auction.

There is a clear preference for different types and colours of alpacas across the US. In Florida where it tends to be hot and humid, the Suri is more popular, based on the belief that the suri is more tolerant of extremes in temperature and humidity, I have not seen research to support this but it is slowly becoming accepted wisdom. In the north east they tend to prefer multi-coloured animals and some people like to ”collect” a certain type of multi, while in the mid-west solid animals are the way to go. Over here on the west coast, where I live, white is the name of the game. Knowing these preferences can make a significant difference when buying or selling animals and when it comes to showing. Clearly to enter the white class on the west coast you would need outstanding animals and probably a thick skin.

 Speaking of the show circuit, this year’s season has got off to an emotional start caused primarily by the introduction of a series of new AOBA show rules designed to address the issue of grooming or “blocking”  prior to showing the animals.  Alpacas have always been groomed prior to showing and the companies who supply alpaca products offer a variety of grooming products, so I have to assume someone has been buying this stuff and using it to their advantage ….. almost certainly in the show ring. This sort of behaviour is not only driven by the significant financial gains that are possible but also by a strong desire in some quarters to win at all costs.

 However, the amount of grooming reached a level late last year where it was decided that something needed to be done.  Hence the introduction of new show rules and a move towards the “fresh from the pasture” look, the days of the well-groomed and sculptured alpaca are clearly numbered.

As Rob Bettinson taught me several years ago, “groom the pastures not the animals”. That way you can clearly assess the animals and make comparative judgments to the benefit of all concerned.

I believe there are only a few who advocate the extensive grooming that was happening last year and that the majority of AOBA members favour a move to judging animals in their more natural condition. Extensive grooming tends to favour the larger breeders who have a large staff of full time employees with two or three people dedicated to the preparation and grooming of their show animals.

 Now, we all know how difficult it can be to break old habits, particularly those that have served us well in the past. The grooming of show animals will prove no exception and this transition isn’t going to be an easy one, the burden has initially fallen on the judges to stamp out what is now regarded by the AOBA Show Rules as cheating.  This can only be, at best, an interim step, as the judges need to be concentrating on the characteristics of the animals in a given class and not spending their time enforcing the grooming rules. So who will become the ”grooming police”? The answer has to be that exhibitors and fellow AOBA members must take ownership of the rules and responsibility for their enforcement. Alpaca breeders who travel around farms and see animals between shows on pasture are much better placed to spot a groomed animal than a judge who has but minutes to evaluate a whole class of animals and rank them in order. The procedures exist to do this and exhibitors can file protests against other exhibitors who they know committed a violation. The show rulebook defines exactly what is prohibited.

I cannot put it any better than Jude Anderson (a well-respected AOBA judge) who puts it as only an Australian can:

She said, “Grooming animals in contravention of the show rules is cheating” and has several consequences:

1.          If you break the rules, you cheat yourself because you cannot accurately assess groomed animals for your own breeding program.

2.         You cheat your farm’s reputation by becoming known for breaking the rules. 

3.         You cheat the gene pool at large when you sell show stock based on a false record, that then go on to become the “elite” studs and dams.

4.         You cheat the entire industry by creating a hostile competitive environment.

As Mike Safely so succinctly puts it “AOBA’s Show System is an integral part of the alpaca market, and, at some level, we hope that it contributes to the genetic improvement of the breed.  It is every participant’s responsibility to see to it that our shows are conducted based on the alpacas’ merit and with integrity”.