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More than 300 alpacas to compete in Conyers

Knuckles and Khryton demonstrate perfect conformation in their body style and build, according to owner Michael Hall of Mystic Mountain Alpacas in south Newton. Both have competed in shows throughout the Southeast, with Knuckles typically placing third in his class and Khryton typically placing second. (Special Photo)

Knuckles and Khryton demonstrate perfect conformation in their body style and build, according to owner Michael Hall of Mystic Mountain Alpacas in south Newton. Both have competed in shows throughout the Southeast, with Knuckles typically placing third in his class and Khryton typically placing second. (Special Photo)

CONYERS — If you’ve never met an alpaca, you may want to venture out to the Georgia International Horse Park Nov. 2 and 3 for the Royal Alpaca Challenge.

There will be plenty of chances to get introduced to the doe-eyed, long-lashed creatures there. And why would you want to encounter an alpaca anyway?

“They are wonderful visually to look at, appealing, stunning almost,” said Newton County alpaca rancher Michael Hall. They also happen to have a sweet disposition. “They are very good with people in general. They are extremely good with kids. It’s an opportunity to see something you’re not normally going to see.”

Breeders from around the country will compete for top prizes at the event, which takes place from 9 a.m.- 5 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 2 and from 9 a.m.- 4 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 3. Additionally, the Royal Alpaca Fiber Lounge will feature felting and drop spindle stations, spinning circles and free fiber arts classes. Michael Hall’s wife Melissa is one of the fiber artists who will sell her wares there.

The two are still working full-time, but they’ve got a long-range plan for Mystic Mountain Alpacas, their ranch off Ga. Highway 36, to provide some extra income in their retirement. They currently have 37 head, each with a unique personality, according to Michael Hall. They had hoped to break even with operations by year five, and had already achieved that goal by year three. The Hall’s breed and sell alpacas, sell the fleece and compete in shows like the Royal Alpaca Challenge.

One objective of showing is “to see how you are doing amongst your peers,” said Hall, who is also president of the Georgia Alpaca Association. More than 350 alpacas from 190 ranches from all over the country will be featured at the event, competing on halter in the show ring. They’ll be classed based on sex, age and color and judged based on conformation, stride and fleece quality. Cash prizes will be awarded in each class.

Alpacas are cousins to the llama but less aggressive. Their fleece is hypoallergenic, one-third the weight of wool and feels similar to cashmere.

Native to the Andean Mountain range of South America, particularly Peru, Bolivia and Chile, alpacas were first imported to America in 1984, according to a press release from the Georgia Alpaca Association. There are now more than 190,000 alpacas registered with Alpaca Registry Inc. in North America.

Adult alpacas stand at approximately 36 inches at the withers and generally weigh between 150 and 200 pounds. They do not have horns, hooves, claws or incisors. Alpacas are alert, intelligent, curious and predictable, and are social animals that communicate by softly humming, according to the Georgia Alpaca Association.

Alpacas are shorn every 12 to 18 months and produce 5 to 10 pounds of fiber. Long ago, alpaca fiber was reserved for royalty. Today it is purchased in its raw fleece form by hand-spinners and fiber artists. Knitters buy it as yarn.

Because of its soft texture, alpaca fiber is sometimes compared to cashmere. Making the fiber even more coveted, it has the luster of silk. It comes in 22 natural colors and can be dyed any shade.

Sensitive to their environment in every respect, alpacas have soft padded feet instead of hooves and can leave even the most delicate terrain undamaged. Damage to topsoil decreases long-term soil fertility and in the process, the soil is eroded and weed invasion is encouraged.

Alpacas prefer to eat tender grasses, which they do not pull up by the roots. Lacking upper teeth, alpacas cut the grass with their bottom teeth and upper palate. This vegetation cutting encourages the plants’ growth. Because they are modified ruminants with a three-compartment stomach, alpacas convert grass and hay to energy very efficiently and stop eating when they are full, further preserving the landscape on which they live.

Alpacas’ pellet-like droppings are PH balanced and are an excellent, natural, slow-release, low-odor fertilizer. This rich fertilizer is perfect for growing fruits and vegetables. Because alpacas consolidate their feces in one or two communal spots in the pasture, it is easy to collect and compost, and the spread of parasites is controlled.

No chemicals are employed either during feeding or during the industrial production of alpaca fleece into fiber. If dying is desired, only 20 percent of a normal dye quantity is required.

All fiber from an alpaca can be used. Even the fiber from the lower legs, belly and neck can be used for things such as natural weed mats to be placed around trees. Alpaca fiber is biodegradable.

Alpacas require no insecticides, herbicides or fertilizers that pollute the groundwater.