Kit and Sheryl Johnson runs Silverstream Alpaca Stud, one of the largest alpaca stud farms in New Zealand.
Kit was raised on a large sheep farm and spent 34 years in tourism retiring in 2004 to focus
solely on the raising and management of alpacas. They are now living on the family farm of Sheryl's grand parents. Charlotte their eldest daughter and Lloyd their son are both passionate about alpacas and have participated in junior judging.
Leaving a cold southern winter to attend the prestigious Royal Bath & West Show
was the highlight of a UK holiday for five enthusiastic Kiwi alpaca breeders.
A long 24 hour flight via Dubai did not dampen our spirits although the English weather tried its best to remind us of what we had left behind.
The British alpaca industry and its workings are not well known in New Zealand - the only thing we knew as breeders, was that the British herd was not too dissimilar in size to that of the New Zealand herd.
Encountering heavy flows of traffic all heading in the same direction gave us our first indication of the sheer size of the Royal Bath & West Show and if we did not fully appreciate it then, parking at the opposite end of where the alpaca arena was sited, confirmed our earlier view. There is something for everyone at this show and I only wish we had had more time to see the other non alpaca events.
After a few wrong turns and some fresh directions we found our way to the alpacas. Turning towards the pens we saw a familiar face in Cathy Lloyd who was busy judging the alpaca fleeces. There were few exhibitors around (probably at lunch)
and so we seized the opportunity to view the animals albeit from arms length. Our
first observation was that there was a good mix of coloured animals and a good turn out of suris.
This is not always the case in New Zealand although it is changing rapidly
especially in the North Island. In the afternoon we took our seats to watch the judging of the suris. Not being suri breeders, it was a pleasure just to sit back, relax, observe and listen to the commentary.
The next day saw a lot more activity as exhibitors readied themselves and their animals for the huacaya judging. The judge Nick Harrington-Smith was a master of ceremonies - thorough in his assessment of the animals, providing detailed critiques
and thoroughly entertaining. We learnt a lot and enjoyed the occasion.
What were our observations of the animals?
Generally I thought the quality of the animals was similar to those in New Zealand although I must caution that I did not get to see a lot of the animals up close.
What was interesting to us and some of our Australian friends was the brightness and lustre of the fleeces and the length of staple.
If I had to find a point of difference it was in this area - opening the fleeces was a real treat. Is it all the English rain I thought?
I was surprised to learn that you do not have male certification in the UK. If there was a negative comment to be made, it was the number of animals that had varying degrees of conformational faults.
I was also surprised to learn that you announce the winners and place getters immediately after each class. In New Zealand and Australia
such a practice would breach show regulations and lead to allegations of bias. Ribbons placed on the pens of the successful breeders are considered to be sufficient publicity
We appreciated very much the hospitality and interest shown by the exhibitors to this Kiwi contingent of alpaca breeders. We had a wonderful
experience and would love to repay the hospitality if and when a trip down under is ever contemplated. Do not forget the World Alpaca Congress
in Sydney in March 2008 and please call into New Zealand on the way through - we have some wonderful animals.