Alpaca farmers to take part in weekend event with competitors from across U.S.

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 17, 2012

By Wayne Hinshaw
For the Salisbury Post
CONCORD — The 30 alpacas on Ben and Melissa Augustyn’s farm on Kluttz Road are accustomed to drawing attention.
“Come out and meet our alpacas today!” says the Augustyn Acres website. “You can’t resist those fuzzy little faces and big eyes. Our alpacas speak for themselves.”
But they’ll be seen by thousands more than usual this weekend as several of the animals compete in the Carolina Alpaca Celebration at Cabarrus Arena and Event Center.
“This is a really big show with 650 animals from all over the nation,” says Melissa, who will show their alpacas in the ring. “It is one of the bigger shows in the country.”
The strongest competition will come from Ohio, where one farm has 1,600 alpacas, according to the Augustyns.
Getting antsy
“I used to get really nervous when I first started showing,” Melissa says. “You are in the ring for about 30 minutes, so the alpaca can start to get antsy after that long.”
They’re used to the more relaxed pace of grazing on the Augustyns’ 10-acre farm in Cabarrus County, near the Rowan County line.
The Augustyns may have the largest alpaca farm in the county. They started with four alpacas five years ago and now have 30 alpacas of all colors.
All alike, but all different.
They also have a llama, larger cousin to the alpaca. Named “Oreo Cookie,” the llama stands guard over the herd and helps protect the animals from wild dogs or coyotes.
Ben works as a Concord firefighter, and Melissa teaches at Concord Middle School. With their 2-year-old daughter, Carly, they spend two to three hours a day running the farm and caring for the alpacas.
Camel family
Alpacas are native to South America’s Andean Mountain range, where they run wild in many places, such as Peru. Imported into the United States in 1984, they are hardy animals used to searching for their own food in the wild.
Alpacas and llamas are members of the camel family. In their faces you can see camel traits — with added fleece on top of their heads.
There are two breeds of alpacas: the huacaya and the suri. They are almost identical except for their fleece.
The huacaya have waviness to their fleece that makes it look fluffy, like a teddy bear.
The suri fleece has fiber that clings together, forming a pencil-like lock that hangs down.
The Augustyns’ alpacas are all the huacaya breed.
Alpacas are said to be intelligent animals — curious and nosy. They are very sociable and like companionship, according to the Alpaca Owners and Breeders Association.
Melissa laughs. “They are more like cats that won’t come to strangers,” she says. “They have to come to you, and not you to them. Some you can pet, some you can’t touch.
“Then there are the drama queens that have a fit if things don’t go their way.”
All of the Augustyn animals have names, such as Andelé, Shooter, Napister, Wild Turkey, Summer Sunshine, Alycoyo, Spotot, Pepsi and Mocha. If they are born on the farm, they have their name with Augustyn in front when registered.
Most of the animals respond to their names when called. Ben and Melissa recognize each animal by name.
Fleece shearing
Still, there’s a business side to the farm.
“We do (raise alpacas) for the fleece,” Ben says, “ and we breed and sell animals and show them.” The farm’s 10 pregnant alpacas will stay on the farm this weekend.
Professional shearers come during April and shear the fleece annually before the heat of summer. Each alpaca will produce 5-10 pounds of fleece. The fleece is just as warm as wool but much lighter in weight. Clothing made from alpaca fleece is wrinkle-resistant.
An alpaca can sell for up to $25,000, depending on sex and breeding.
Another farm
Elaine Kelly is another Cabarrus County alpaca farmer. Her farm near Harrisburg on Lower Rocky River Road has 10 huacaya alpacas and one llama for a guard over the herd.
She describes herself as a “newcomer” with only one-and-a-half years in the business.
“I got into it because we had a farm and I wanted livestock,” Kelly says. “I have three daughters, so they can treat alpacas like pets. We can just shear the animals for their fleece but we don’t have to sell them for meat like cattle.”
Alpacas don’t have hard hoofs like a cow, so they’re easy on the pasture. Their foot is more like the paw of a dog. They don’t pull up the grass when they eat, like horses and cows do. They cut if off with their teeth.
A farming background helps, Kelly says.
“I am the alpaca farmer. My husband is in the construction business. I can handle the animals myself in about three hours a day.
“My father was a cattle farmer so I grew up around livestock. These are gentle animals that my teenage kids think are so cute.”
All the animals in the show this weekend must be “pasture ready” meaning that you can only clean the grass and hay off of them and go. You can’t groom or brush, but you can trim their toe nails.
Kelly will show and conduct a workshop at the Carolina Alpaca Celebration show on the fleece being used as a fiber. She has six pregnant cows that will stay on the farm during the show. Her biggest interest is in the textile side of the alpaca business.
Extended hours
In the show, sponsored by the Carolina Alpaca Breeders and Owners Association, alpacas are judged in categories based on the color of their fleece. There are 27 natural colors. Gray and white fleece are the two most popular colors, but there is black, reddish, beige and other variations.
Because of the large number of entries, hours for the Alpaca Celebration have been extended on Saturday to 8 a.m.-6 p.m.
Sunday, the event will be open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Admission and parking are free.
Cabarrus Arena and Events Center is at 4751 NC Hwy 49 North, Concord. If using GPS, another address to use is 4551 Old Airport Road.
Get in free to all alpaca events Saturday, Sunday
CONCORD — The Sixth Annual Carolina Alpaca Celebration is expected to draw alpacas, alpaca enthusiasts and fiber art enthusiasts from across the country this weekend.
Held at Cabarrus Arena & Event Center, the celebration will be open to the public 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday and 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Sunday.
Admission and parking are free.
The show will have classes judging alpacas on conformation and fleece quality in several categories.
Other activities include educational sessions, fiber arts competitions and demonstrations and vendors featuring fleece fashions.
For more information, go to