Alpacas have drawn a crowd in Madison County. The 4-H Club of Madison County implemented a project dedicated to the long-necked animal — and they are attracting excitement, according to 4-H club leaders.
“We had a crowd (at the 2017 Madison County Fair) there from the time it started until after the show was over,” said Judy Gallimore, president of the Madison County 4-H Advisory Committee. The project was brought in last year as an expedition and the project will continue this year.
Six 4-H students participated in the alpaca project and the key leaders would like to see the project grow. Gallimore and Julia Smith, volunteer for the Madison County Helping Hands Happy Hearts 4-H Club, will serve as the key leaders for the alpaca project.
The group gets most of their alpacas from Robin Ridenour of A & R Alpaca Farm in Pickaway County, which boards and sells alpacas. Gallimore says that she took a 4-H group to the farm and some of the kids asked if they could have this as a project.
“And that’s how it started,” said Gallimore.
“They’re easy-keepers and they’re probably one of the easiest projects,” said Smith. “You don’t have to groom them. They don’t take a bath. Every other animal, that’s what everyone’s doing the day of the show, whether it’s the pig or the cow or even the chickens.”
She says that water will actually damage the fleece. When the weather is really hot, the alpacas can cool off with water on their legs.
Freshman and 4-H student, Cade Smith, says that he really likes working with the alpacas because they’re friendly and “they get to know you and your personality.” Cade was the finalist for Best Showman with his alpaca last year.
He has worked with poultry, including chickens and geese, and he says that “it’s not as much of a bond with poultry as it is with alpacas. The alpacas can be nice and lovey if you get to know them.”
According to the students involved in the project, showing alpacas is more interactive than with other animals. Olivia Rinesmith, junior 4-H student, describes leading an alpaca like “walking a lamb, but showing cattle.”
Last year the alpacas had to walk, jump and even play limbo. The students would lead the alpacas underneath a limbo stick.
“When it got so low, because [the alpacas’] necks are so long, they had to army crawl,” said Rinesmith.
Cade says that it’s easier than walking a cow because alpacas weigh a lot less, “and it’s not going to hurt as much if they step on your feet.” Alpacas grow to weigh about 150 pounds and can live to 20 years or more.
Rinesmith explained how many people talked to them after the show.
“There were people coming to the alpaca pen saying ‘no, don’t clean out your pen, we want it,’” said Rinesmith. Alpaca manure is very high in nitrogen. One of the students’ mom used the alpaca manure to fertilize her garden.
Choosing your alpaca
The students went to A & R Alpaca Farm to choose the alpacas they wanted to work with for the year.
“The kids got to know the alpacas and the alpacas got to know them and their personalities,” said Smith. The students also chose to work with all females.
Smith housed the alpacas that the students chose at her house. The kids were able to go there and spend time with the alpacas, which is important for connection and to help domesticate them.
And for junior Rinesmith her alpaca chose her. “You have to find an alpaca that clicks with you,” said Rinesmith. “My alpaca, Raven — she picked me instead of me picking her.”
Rinesmith has been in 4-H for 12 years, showing and breeding market lambs. She says that working with alpacas is similar to working with lambs, explaining that she has to develop a connection with both and walking them is similar.
Rinesmith explained that her alpaca enjoyed taking “selfies” with her.
“It looks like she’s [her alpaca, Raven] is smiling in all of the pictures,” said Rinesmith. “I think they like to look at themselves.”
Kayden Warnock, fifth grade 4-H student, made a big jump from working with rabbits to alpacas last year. “They were fun and very interesting,” said Warnock. “It was interesting to see how they behaved when you walked them.” She plans to working with alpacas again this year.
An important aspect is for alpacas to be together because an alpaca alone can be dangerous.
“The difficult thing is that you have to have at least two alpacas together,” said Gallimore. “They’re packed animals and if they don’t have another alpaca, bad things can happen.” Gallimore says that they could get depressed and this could even lead to an alpaca’s death.
The alpacas don’t need to be in pairs, as long as they are around other alpacas.
Alpacas are raised for fiber and are not eaten. They are sheared for their fleece once per year.
“You have to have the talent to do the shearing,” said Smith. “If something were to happen and you did it wrong or cut them — the alpacas don’t heal well or easily.” She says that their skin is more sensitive and they have rolls in places that maybe a sheep do not have.
A husband and wife team come from Australia and spend about four months traveling around the U.S. shearing alpacas. Once a year, usually around Mother’s Day, they stop by the A & R Alpaca Farm to shear for a weekend.
About the project
Every year, the Best Showman award includes a junior, intermediate and senior finalist. Last year Kayden Warnock (junior), Cade Smith (intermediate) and Olivia Rinesmith (senior) were the three finalists.
The kids will start spending time with the alpacas on the farm in the spring. Some students will have to choose a new alpaca if the one they used last year is pregnant. At this time, they will also decide whether they will work with males or females.
Next year, Gallimore plans to increase implementation of classes.
“Probably not this year, but next year I would like to add a dress up class,” said Gallimore. “That would just be a fun contest.” This class would entail dressing up the alpacas in costumes.
“It was a good learning experience for all of us,” said Rinesmith.
For more information about the 4-H Club of Madison County visit: www.madison.osu.edu.
Amanda Rockhold is a staff writer for Rural Life. She can be reached at 740-852-1616, ext. 1617.