Alpacas are nothing to spit at

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Being sprayed with spit isn’t what you would expect when first meeting someone.

Being sprayed with spit isn’t what you would expect when first meeting someone. But that’s how Harris, one of the alpacas from Annie’s Alpaca Ranch, greeted me when I showed up to talk with ranch owner Ann Danielson at the National Western Stock Show. Apparently that’s normal for a more aggressive alpaca. Woodrow, the other alpaca she was showing, was friendly but shy.

The alpaca’s wool felt like a soft blanket. Alpacas are sheared once a year, and the wool is sent to a mill to be turned into yarn, which is used to make socks, hats, scarves and even blankets.

Some people think alpacas and llamas are the same animal, but they are very different. Alpacas are much smaller than llamas and have pointier ears. The average alpaca is about 160 pounds and is valued mainly for its wool. Llamas are used as guard animals or to carry heavy loads on long trips.

Danielson has been raising alpacas for nine years. Having grown up on a farm in Iowa, she’s used to taking care of livestock. She currently has 16 alpacas and shows them around the state.

In competitions, alpacas are judged on the quality of their wool, their gait, their teeth and their build. Before judging begins, the alpacas are separated into groups by color and type. Suri alpacas have more of a silky, stringy wool while Huacayas have more of a blanket-like coat. Harris and Woodrow are both Huacayas and are both brown, so they competed in the same class at the stock show. Harris placed second and Woodrow third.

Alpacas eat 2 percent of their body weight a day, mostly grass and hay. Danielson says she likes alpacas “because they are easy to care for and are smart.” What she likes least? “Probably the spitting.”