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Articles by Alpaca World Magazine:

Running a Show Class Event

Tim Hey and John Gaye

Show classes are a wonderful way to market the alpaca industry to the general public. Breeders will have their trade stands at various agricultural shows but the public want entertaining and there is nothing to beat the show class event with dozens of alpacas and their owners, all dressed and looking at their best. In addition the sound of a commentary on a public address system acts as a magnet to those who would otherwise have walked by a small pen of alpacas with not much going on. Therefore all breeders should be encouraged to approach their local agricultural show with a view to putting on a show class event, however small it may be.

So why do we as alpaca breeders and owners want to put on alpaca classes at our local agricultural or Royal Show? The primary reason we believe is, to promote and present a new rural industry to he general public in the most organised and sophisticated way we can. We want to educate and sell the industry to all facets of the targeted market. The next most important reason surrounds the breeder of this new livestock. Show classes enable a breeder to show off their breeding to others in the industry and gauge from the champion alpacas a direction the breed and industry is taking. It offers breeders another tool for the selection of sires and maybe future purchase of high quality bloodstock. The final reason we organise these shows is so that all exhibitors can meet, interact on a personal level with the general public and market their business. This factor will become increasingly important if breeders are to continue to support classes in the future.

So what do you need to organise such an event? There are certain things that are essential:

· A sense of humour
· A persuasive tongue and a gang at the ready to encourage others to help you
· A mobile phone in order to be on hand for weeks beforehand
· An ability to delegate
· A check list of things to do and when to do them
· Whisky, Bundy or some suitable beverage to calm the nerves as the big day approaches

It is not difficult usually to persuade the organisers of agricultural shows to accept alpaca show classes. Alpacas are much more interesting and entertaining animals than many of the other domesticated stock animals that may be on show. They are novel and thus are a great attraction to the general public, encouraging diversity of interest and thus helping to boost the numbers through the gate. But if alpacas are to be shown in the best possible light the show classes must be properly organised and must present to the public an image that looks professional.

Once you have persuaded the organisers of the show to accept alpaca show classes then you will need to start planning in plenty of time if all is going to go smoothly. First of all find a judge – you may find someone from the list of judges in the UK or if you are really ambitious with a larger show then you could try for an overseas judge perhaps from Peru, Australia, the USA or Canada. The advantage of an overseas judge is that you may well attract more breeders to take part in order to have their animals looked at by someone from outside. However the list of British judges is growing all the time and there are quite a number to choose from and at minimal cost as they do not need long haul flights and rather more substantial expenses. The agricultural or royal show committee will usually extend an invitation to the judge on the society or groups behalf.

Once you the convenor or show organiser have secured your judge then it is vital to start searching around for helpers from your regional group because your aim should be that on the day you can take a supervisory role rather than be tied into one of the many roles that will prevent you seeing what is going on. The following list is not exhaustive but may help:

· The Ring Steward – this is the handler’s friend in the ring. He or she must be experienced with alpacas and must know exactly what is expected of the handlers and alpacas so that everyone, including the judge, is relaxed and able to assess the alpaca at the critical moment.
· Marshalling Stewards – these people must be highly organised and able to cajole or bully all the handlers to be in the right place at the right time with the correct animals. It is the marshalling steward who will make or break the timetable.
· Penning Steward – this role can be doubled up with another role as it is one that requires lots of action before the event actually starts. Arranging the pens, receiving the alpacas and ensuring that the correct animals go into the correct pens is the principal job.
· Prizes and recording steward (s) – the scale of the show will dictate whether this job needs more than one person. The role is to ensure that all results are correctly recorded and that the appropriate ribbon or rosette is available for the judge at the end of each class.
· Chief Seward can be a vet, judge or a qualified person – to check each animal prior to the show.
· Inspection stewards – to accompany the inspector or chief steward prior to the show.
· Commentator – not only must the commentator be able to talk at length about alpacas without boring for Britain but he or she usually ends up directing much of what is going on and must stay sober long enough to be able to pronounce who has won each class and get the names of both animal and breeder correct.

Before the Show.

One of the first things is to get hold of the show rules from the breed society. The rules dictate what the classes are going to be and although in a small show the classes may well be merged that can be done on the day with the help of the judge who will be very aware of how to keep the public interested. A sole alpaca in the ring is not eye catching or particular likely to hold an audience for long. Neither does the judge want to spend all day staring at small classes which would usually result in the event overrunning into the evening.

Months before the show you will need to start to publicise the event with the alpaca breeders so that they can plan which shows they are going to attend well in advance. The earlier the better as this may well dictate when they shear during the previous year or when they have a female served.

Liasing with the organisers of the ag show committee will provide you with a great deal of information about the infrastructure they can offer. Can they provide covered accommodation for the pens (essential) and if necessary can they lay on cover for the judging ring should it be wet on the day? Do they have a plentiful supply of hurdles and do they have some form of display boards to help with the layout and organisation of the animals? Absolutely vital is a good public address system preferably with a hands free walk-about microphone so that the judge can address their comments to all those who are watching. Some form of gazebo cover for the commentator, recording and prize stewards together with chairs, a table and suitable cloth are important as well as a blackboard or similar where all the results can be recorded for the benefit of all those taking part or watching. If there is to be a separate fleece judging then you will need plenty of tables and containers in which to place the fleeces. Find out how much the show will help with financial support.

You will need money, some of which can be gathered from the ag show via entry fees but also from sponsorship. Sponsorship needs careful thought. There are only a few alpaca specialist suppliers in the UK and they do get ‘tapped’ to sponsor all the major events so you may find that they are not always going to be keen to sponsor a smaller event. Do not despair; go to your accounts and work out to whom you pay out money regularly, your local feed merchant, agricultural suppliers, ATV supplier etc, and approach them. The longer list of potential sponsors the smaller the amount you need ask them for and thus the greater chance you will have of getting their help. Some will provide money, others may well prefer to present something ‘in kind’, such as prizes. You will need both. In addition do not forget that they will need something in return so ask them for their banners for the ring side and ensure that the commentator has a complete list so that he can mention them throughout the day. Other forms of sponsorship in kind may well be pot plants to decorate the ring, accommodation for the judge or food and drink for the officials. Sponsors are so important as their banners decorate the ring and make the alpaca industry look vibrant and professional.

The deadline for entries should be well before the date of the show as there is the programme to be made out and printed. This may well be done by the Ag show organisers who will want to put all the show events for all breeds of animal and the entries into their catalogue. Almost certainly there will be more animals entered than will appear on the day.

Other things to organise maybe in conjunction with the Ag show committee:

· Sashes, rosettes and certificates for every class winner
· A presentation for the judge at the end of the show
· Presentations for the stewards at the end of the show
· Refreshment for the judge – preferably not alcoholic – and on a hot day preferably with ice or from a cold container. The show will probably provide a lunch ticket for the judge and an accompanying steward.

Immediately Prior to the Show

You and the penning steward must come up with a plan for the reception and housing of the alpacas which must be made clear to all the owners when they arrive. You will need assistants to help with this. Firstly the pens must be constructed according to your plan – allow lots of room as each owner will almost certainly want a small area for their possessions and for themselves. Females must be separated from males, and there may well be a requirement for a few more secure pens for large stud males. Each owner’s/exhibitors pen(s) should be clearly signed, not least to prevent people from taking more than their prescribed space. Ensure that there is sufficient room for a one way circuit for animal movement during the show. At any one time there will be animals going out to the ring and animals returning – it is so much easier if they do not have to meet in a narrow passageway going in opposite directions.

The plan should be copied and each assistant steward will need a copy and a clear idea as to the layout. Also plans can be usefully placed in strategic locations so that owners can see for themselves where they are supposed to be.

Owners may need some help in getting their animals into their pens with the minimum of fuss or escapees. Although the odd rampaging escaped alpaca does provide the public with great entertainment it does nothing for the blood pressure of yourself or the owner of the animal. Do not overestimate the owners’ ability to control their alpacas and, as with all animal movement, it is worthwhile to close every avenue of escape before the animals start to move.

You may well need a steward to help owners manoeuvre their vehicle and trailer into position to unload. Here a man (yes that is a very sexist comment) can be very useful if he is skilled in reversing trailers and this can save hours of time and embarrassment for all concerned; although watching trailer reversing can be hugely entertaining for the onlookers. Perhaps it should be considered by agricultural shows as another form of attraction.

On the Day

Your judge will not arrive until just before the show is due to start and they will expect everything to be just about ready to go. They will either arrive independently or under the supervision of the agricultural show organisers, this is to ensure that there can be no possibility of perceived undue influence by anyone who is showing animals. They should to speak to all competitors before the first class; not just to relax and reassure them but also to tell them how best to present their animals to save time and show them to their best.

Ensure that there are enough programmes for every exhibitor, to be given out on arrival so they can be prepared for their inspections and to give away to the general public. They like to follow the classes as well and it puts exhibitors names in their hands.

However you and the stewards must be very much aware of the start time and must work to that religiously. A late start rebounds throughout the rest of the day and may well mean that the alpacas miss out on the parade of the champions or even that the classes continue on after the show is over and the public have gone home.

Each and every animal will need to be inspected before the classes commence. You will need an inspection steward and their team to check their health and at least one, probably two, stewards to check the identity of each animal. For this they will need a microchip scanner and a copy of the entry form showing the animals’ registration details. Any animal found to have five legs or three eyes will not be allowed to exhibit and obviously anything showing signs of sickness must be removed away from the pens into some form of isolation to prevent the spread of disease. This can be a slow process and thus it is vital that all owners know that they must have their animals penned, if not the night before, then very early in the morning of the show.

Meanwhile the commentator and the other stewards will need to briefed on the day’s programme. Once the event is under way three of the most important individuals for the smooth running of the day are the commentator, the ring steward and the marshalling steward as everyone will look to them for guidance. If they do not have a firm grasp on what is happening then the smooth tenure of the event will be reduced.

Ensure your instructions are clear and clearly understood. There must be no ambiguity and the more people who are briefed the more likely things will go according to your plan. Movement of animals can be difficult and a well laid out one way system which is kept clear of people, particularly the public, will aid the smooth flow and the punctual arrival in the holding pen of the alpacas for the next class.

Do not forget the end of the show – who to thank and how to thank. Will you want to have a group photo of all the class winners? The finale must be choreographed like the rest of the show and to maintain the interest of the public it must all flow smoothly.

Once the show is underway there is little you can do but relax and oversee all that is going on, being prepared to intervene where there is a problem. You may well be approached by an exhibitor who may have a grievance about something or other – this is where your sense of humour may well be tested. It may be necessary to seek guidance from the judge but essentially you will be the final arbiter over grievances and exhibitors can become very competitive and lose their sense of perspective. It is not however very common and on the whole competitors retain their sense of humour and their understanding of what it is all about.

At the conclusion of the show classes you will need to consider how to thank all those who have taken part: the judge, the stewards and not least the exhibitors. Will this be the job of the commentator or will you wish to take the microphone? Who will do the presentation of the gifts - can you find a suitable ‘celebrity’ or senior sponsor? This is the time all breeders and owners should be asking to look at the champion alpacas from the day. We as breeders find this so essential to gauge where our breeding programme is at and to identify where genetics that can influence our herd lye. The results also must be accurately recorded for the ag society as well as passed onto the alpaca breed society.

Even now the day is not over as the animals now have to be collected by their owners, the prizes collected, the sponsors’ banners taken down and returned, the fleeces bagged up and returned to their owners and a whole lot more. So do not plan to have a dinner party that night.

Almost certainly the day will have gone smoothly and without any grievances from the exhibitors and the public and the agricultural show will have benefited by a wonderful spectacle of the alpaca community at their best. You will have done a job to be proud of and the alpaca industry can be very grateful to you for helping to promote it in such a positive way.

Tim Hey and John Gaye