Originally Published: September 18, 2008 10:51 p.m.
PRESCOTT VALLEY - The rabbits, chickens, turkeys, lambs and other show animals have unlikely pen-mates in the Coors Event Center during the four-day run of the Yavapai County Fair - alpacas.
Five male alpacas are spending their days inside two enclosures eating hay, drinking water and drawing the attention of fair-goers. Like llamas, they are native to South America, but they differ from their Andean cousins because they are smaller, do not serve as pack animals and spit less often.
Owners raise the alpacas for breeding and for the colorful fiber in their coats for clothing, said Dusty Eiker, a Prescott Valley-area horticulturist who exhibited the five animals.
"Don't call it 'wool,'" he said.
Eiker said his fiancée, Wendy Dittbrenner, decided to enter the five animals after learning fair officials allowed exhibitors to show alpacas and llamas for the first time this year.
In so doing, fair officials honored the request from several spectators who ex-pressed interest in 2007, said Malia Miller, superintendent for sheep, alpacas and llamas.
Nobody entered llamas this year, Miller said, adding that she hopes for more participation in 2009.
"Perhaps it will spur some further interest from other people, and we can grow the class for next year," Miller said.
Dittbrenner learned about the new class-ification in the premium book for the 95th annual fair, Eiker said. She owns Peaceful Prairie Ranch in the Coyote Springs area near Prescott Valley.
"We thought it would be good for exposure," Eiker said. He referred to commercials on television that promote alpaca-raising as an investment.
The alpacas caught the eye of fair maintenance worker Jeremy Booth Thursday as he tooled around the building in a cart. He acknowledged that he never saw an alpaca before.
"People need to see these incredible animals," said Starr Ladehoff, a Rimrock resident who bought three male alpacas from Dittbrenner.
Ladehoff said she boards her alpacas at Dittbrenner's ranch. Eiker displayed one of them: Sniffy, so named because it likes to sniff people.
Ladehoff said she decided to raise alpacas after studying them for two years. She has a background as an animal behaviorist and trainer.
She and Eiker touted alpacas, which Peru initially exported to the United States in 1984.
They are easy to raise and hardy, not susceptible to diseases and rarely require human intervention when they give birth, Eiker said.
Males and females can start breeding around the age of 2, he said. He added the climate in the tri-city area is conducive to raising alpacas because the weather lacks extreme temperatures.
They also are easy on the environment because they lack hooves, Ladehoff said.
"They are not aggressive," she said. "They do not bite."
Alpaca ranchers in the Coyote Springs and Chino Valley areas plan to observe National Alpaca Farms Days during the weekend of Sept. 27, 28 by inviting the public to see the animals, Eiker said.
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