House-bound for the past week waiting for my last cria of the season, I have been mulling over the rather embarassing question put to me by the AlpacaWorld editor ??anything exciting happening in France?? Hmmmm!! I think she was referring to the alpaca scene and not the amorous peccadillos of our president (THAT could fill up the magazine!) so I started thinking about what has been happening over here in the alpaca world and the short answer is ? not a lot!
At Easter we had the seventh Alpaga Developpement Spring Show. The venue was a large, airy, well-lit covered market-place right in the center of Bourges. The show had been held there two years ago and it was much appreciated by all the participants, however, since then it has been ?done up? and is now sporting a very smooth and shiny floor ? As the participants arrived and started settling their animals into their enclosures, there was a general panic. The animals were slipping and sliding all over the place, back legs doing the splits, some animals just dropped to the floor and refused to try to stand and others slithered everywhere, trying to get a grip on the surface. Breeders made a rush for their various transports and brought out any flooring that was movable to put done in the pens and one breeder, who was planning to sleep in her truck overnight even sacrificed her bed quilt! That was exciting ? but not the sort of excitement we are looking for.
Other years we have seen quite a large number of competitors from other European countries at this show, but a new rule banning animals that have been ?off-farm? in the three weeks prior to the show eliminated many breeders from Holland, Belgium and Germany who all had held their shows in the same period of time. It also restricted any French breeders who may have wanted to go to a show in any of these neighbouring countries, as well as going to their own show. The rule was obviously made to protect our animals from any contagious diseases spreading across the frontiers, but it does seriously curtail any chances of meeting breeders from other countries and sharing our alpaca passion with them. Maybe the people responsible should get together and work out their dates so as not to step on each others toes.
What is noticeable at recent shows is the much larger number of coloured animals, with an ever increasing quality overall. Black is becoming the latest passion and we are seeing more and more people specialising in this colour. Supreme Champion Huacaya at this Show was awarded to a stunning brown junior male, Bigboy du Leman, owned by the Leman Stud.
So, the quality of the animals is going up rapidly ?. But the prices are falling, just as rapidly. I know that this is happening all over the world, but it seems to me that in other countries the market is dividing into two parts. The high-range quality animals bred for their superior fleeces and the low-range animals bred for their ?cuddle factor?. Unfortunately, here in France it seems that although some established breeders are still working on developing the quality of their herds, the majority of the buyers just want the cuddly sort and are not willing to invest in quality animals. This is very much driven by the ?E-Bay syndrome? where people have the impression that they can buy animals for the same price as bread buns (buy two ? get one free) and many breeders are falling into the trap of dropping their prices simply to ?clinch? a deal and in doing so are dramatically suffocating the market and killing the perception of the alpaca as a luxury animal providing a luxury product.
As I said ? not a lot; I have just got back from a weekend in England where I had the privilege of participating in the Alpaca Classic and that was very exciting. For the 15 hours on the road coming home, my friend and I discussed how it would be possible to do something similar here in France and we just don?t see how it could work. Any sort of conference would have to be translated and that is very off-putting for the speaker, as any judge who has been over here would tell you. And then, of course, the people would have to travel across the country to get there, and not many are willing to do that ? even for our rare annual shows.
This year, the French Association has instigated workshops on understanding fibre ? taking the information to the members in their various areas. All they have to do is ask us and arrange for a ?get together? of a group of interested owners/breeders in their area. Two groups have taken us up on this.
On a personal level, there has been some excitement. Two years ago I branched out and added a small group of suris to my herd and have had the satisfaction of presenting my little ones at the Spring show and taking out the Supreme Suri Champion and Reserve Supreme Suri Champion. Three new little beauties have joined the herd this year; I don?t know why, but those little suri cria go straight to the heart ? they are simply captivating!
In May I had a long-awaited trip to Calais to meet a truck bringing over a new australian male. It?s been a long trek from searching for THE one, making the deal and then waiting through quarantine and then the final 48 hours, flight from New Zealand, customs at Heathrow, problems with the truck (go back to the start), getting the boat across the Channel and finally, he?s here ?. He stepped out of that truck as fresh as a daisy and hopped up into my van, after a little cuddle, and settled down for another nine hours drive. What is amazing is that there were 97 alpacas on that shipment, two trucks; only my boy was for France and the rest were all heading to Holland, Belgium and Germany. This might explain why most of the excitement is elsewhere and in France ?. not a lot!