For 11 years now the North American Alpaca Show has acted as a de facto testing lab for our breeding program. Other than a couple of years when we sent animals to NC for an even earlier roll-out, the NAAS has usually been the first show that many of our juvenile show animals ever go to. Not that a result in a show ring, positive or negative, is a guarantee of anything going forward but as a rule show results do give you at least a snapshot critique of the animals your breeding program has produced. The bigger and more nuanced trick of course is understanding what those results may or may not mean, though that is really another whole topic.
Now every year, if we’ve done our job right, there are always several new alpacas born here that make our pulses quicken and hopefully represent that next step forward genetically. Often times those crias continue to develop and become future cogs in our breeding program. Other times though, those animals either flat line in their development or we end up taking them to the spring shows only to find out the hard way that though very decent alpacas, they are not necessarily exceptional. Every alpaca breeder — and we are no exception — must beware of barn blinders: the phenomenon of deluding yourself into believing you have something truly special when well, maybe it’s just kind of nice.
Fortunately we’ve been lucky enough over the years to breed and birth out some critters here that were undeniably the real deal: Archangel, Cameron, Ring Of Fire, Magdalena, Johanna, Orange Blossom, Pristine, Bellafina, etc…All of those alpacas and many more like them have consequently been absorbed into our foundation herd as they have come of age. That, along with some occasional outside injections of new genetics, has formed the long term basis for whatever success we’ve had in continuing to advance the overall quality of of our herd in each ensuing birth class. While we have learned all too many times that there are never any guaranteed outcomes in alpaca breeding, at least over time quality will generally beget quality and it’s really just a matter of tilting the odds in one’s favor sufficiently. Do enough breedings that make sense on paper and over time an upward trend in the caliber of alpacas being produced is inevitable. Not exactly reinventing the wheel, is it?
Four years ago at the 2008 NAAS, a rotund little fluff ball of a female that we had named Ascension made her public debut. She was the second cria in as many years that her wily old dam, 5P Cangalli, had produced for us when bred to Archangel. Ascension truly had the goods: combining the fineness, density, staple length, and uniformity in her fleece with the frame and phenotype that her paternal line has since so often claimed as one of its calling cards. Ascension would not just win her class at that show but also the light female color Championship. She would in fact go on to win 3 more banners before retiring from our show string in the summer of 2009. The judge’s superlatives notwithstanding, we obviously knew that we had something very special on our hands in that young female alpaca, we just weren’t necessarily sure what we would do when it came time to breed her. Fast forward to the summer of 2010. Having bred Ascension outside the year before with mixed results (she had one of those male crias that would have made a wonderful female cria), she was held for the August arrival of one Snowmass Elite Legend, the superlative Herdsire in whom we had just purchased a partial interest from Snowmass Alpacas along with our good friends at Tripping Gnome Farm. EL arrived here in New England already as a defending Futurity Herdsire of the Year, so I will freely admit that it wasn’t so much a question of who we were going to breed him to, it was more a question of who we weren’t going to breed him to. Let’s just say that if it was a white/light female alpaca that was sexually mature in the summer and fall of 2010, he got his shot with very few exceptions.
The crop of Elite Legend crias that followed last year truly met or exceeded our wildest expectations though again it was all well and good to feel that way about them ourselves and quite another thing to have others agree with us. Particularly when those “others” are some of this industry’s most respected senior judges. So there we were last weekend back in West Springfield, MA for the 11th year in a row, albeit this time just as pure exhibitors without any show organizer hats on (I have to admit, it was nice). The Elite Legend kids — all juveniles — were a huge presence both in our show string, with 5 of the the little buggers (all white or light), as well as several more in the show string from TGF. Amongst that number on the CCNF side was the young beige male that Ascension had birthed out the previous August. CCNF Elixir, as he was christened, had been the consensus #1 ranked cria born here in 2011 but then again we knew all too well that didn’t necessarily mean a thing. Our only hope and belief going into last weekend was that Elixir and his siblings would compete. Whether they would actually come home with any of the bigger prizes we knew was ultimately out of our control.
Our son Sam, who had been helping us show since last fall, asked from the get go on Sunday morning whether he could show Elixir. Seems he knew something that the rest of us still had some doubts about. A few hours later there I was with our almost-2-year-old beige Herdsire, Invictus, in the front row of the Light Male Championship thinking that he might have a legit shot at a banner. But what does the judge do? She instead marches over and hands the Championship banner to Sammy and the 7 month old. I confess to being equal parts excited and flabbergasted at that moment! That judge Amanda VandenBosch then strode over and gave Invictus the Reserve Championship just made it all that much sweeter. As of right now, that Championship class goes down as my favorite show ring memory in 12+ years of walking in circles (our first show ever was the 1999 Big E).
Though we’ve learned (again, the hard way…always the hard way) that when an animal wins a banner that it’s best to just enjoy the moment and ratchet any further expectations down, young Elixir wasn’t done winning for the day just yet. This time with our Herd Manager, Kim McAllister, on the human end of the lead line (Lutz family members couldn’t be in the ring with judge Jude Anderson because of a prior business relationship) Elixir strutted into the Judges’ Choice class with the other huacaya male Champions. We’d only previously won a Judges’ Choice award in halter on two other occasions, both times with brown females (Magdalena’s two daughters, Johanna and Lilah) so our expectations were tamped down. Remember that he was a 7 month old juvenile up against a truly scary lineup of veteran show animals, most of them with multiple Championships to their names. Needless to say that when the the three judges walked up to Kimmy and Elixir with the red banner and the crystal trophy that goes along with it, I was in a state of elated disbelief. Not a bad start to the show career of a would-be future CCNF Herdsire.
What winning those awards last weekend means for Elixir’s immediate future is of course anybody’s guess, though it undeniably bodes well for the long term. Safe to say it also makes the decision of who to breed Ascension to in 2012 a foregone conclusion. We’re just thrilled to have had our perception of this curious little fart validated so conclusively. For now we are just enjoying the moment (oh, you get it by now), while we hope and pray that show results aside, the best of CCNF Elixir is yet to come.
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