Scott Johnston wasn't quite prepared when he fell in love over lunch eight years ago. But, he said, it was too hard not to.
"They're just gentle, lovable creatures," Johnston said. "And super, super soft - what's not to love?"
Johnston fell in love with alpacas that day after attending an event at a Maryland alpaca farm. Johnston's wife, Cindy, had dropped her business card in a hat to win tickets to the event.
After an afternoon of talking to alpaca owners, touching the animals, attending seminars, eating dinner, with an open bar, and participating in an auction, the Johnstons bought their first alpaca.
"We had no experience," he said.
Johnston said the farm kept his newly purchased alpaca for the next six months while he and his wife "got their act together." That included erecting a barn and fence on their 23 acres of land in Lewisberry. Also, as he discovered, it meant purchasing another alpaca.
"They're social animals," Johnston said. "You need two - they need a companion."
In less than a year, the Johnstons had six alpacas. Their farm, Starry Night Alpacas, now has 20.
"Eight years ago, I didn't know what an alpaca was," he said. "Now, it's a lifestyle for us."
About alpacas: Raised for their fiber, the alpaca's fleece is spun into yarn and woven into a variety of scarves, hats, shawls and socks. Johnston said the warmth and softness of the fiber makes alpaca fleece highly desirable to consumers.
An added advantage over wool is the absence of lanolin - the compound responsible for many people's wool allergies, Johnston said.
Johnston's wife, an artist, is constantly spinning, knitting and weaving the farm's alpaca fiber into a variety of homespun goods the couple sells in the farm's cottage store.
Johnston said he has enjoyed teaching people about alpacas and showing them what the gentle creatures are all about. Scott and Cindy Johnston are board members on the Pennsylvania Alpaca Owners and Breeders Association, the official trade organization for alpaca breeders in the state of Pennsylvania.
Showcase: The PAOBA has held its Breeders Showcase for the last 10 years in York, Johnston said, and is a favorite show for the alpaca farmers.
"York is very friendly," he said. "It's not as big as something like the Farm Show, but it runs smoothly."
The 2014 PAOBA Breeders Showcase runs from 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Saturday and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday in the Utz Arena at the York Expo Center, in West Manchester Township.
This year's show will feature more than 300 alpacas from 80-90 farms from across the country, Johnston said. Events will run throughout the weekend, including competitions, demonstrations, a silent auction, performance judging and an obstacle course.
"That's probably the most fun for the public," Johnston said.
Alpaca handlers from local 4-H groups train the animals to complete a variety of challenges - tasks such as walking across a tarp, stepping over a bar or doing activities the alpacas normally would not do. The event is scheduled to start at 1:30 p.m. Saturday in Ring 1.
In addition to the obstacle course, Johnston said the fleece-to-shawl competition is a popular feature of the showcase. Shorn fleece is first hand-spun into yarn, then woven on a loom. The finished shawls are raffled off for a 4-H fundraiser Saturday evening. The competition kicks off at 11 a.m. Saturday and runs throughout the day.
New to the showcase this year will be an activities area. Visitors can participate in a variety of activities, such as making a needled felted soap wrap, a doll or a Mother's Day pin. Most of the activities are free, Johnston said, though some make-and-take crafts may have a small fee for the materials.
The new lineup of make-and-take classes includes:
- Saturday, May 10
- Make a bird nesting ball from 9 to 10 a.m. and 2 to 3 p.m.
- Try your hand at drop spinning from 10 to 11 a.m. and 3 to 4 p.m.
- Making felted soap from 1 to 2 p.m.
- Needle felting with cookie cutters from 4 to 5 p.m.
- Make a bird nesting ball from 9 to 10 a.m.
- Try your hand at drop spinning from 10 to 11 a.m.
- Making felted soap from 11 a.m. to noon
- Needle felting with cookie cutters from noon to 1 p.m.
Sunday, May 11
Admission and parking for the event are free. Johnston said the family-friendly event is expected to draw more than 1,000 people.
As for the fear of spitting, Johnston said alpacas rarely spit at humans.
"Most of the time they're spitting at each other," he said. "We just get in the line of fire if we're not careful."
The biggest danger of the show won't be saliva, he said, but rather falling in love with the soft, furry creatures.
"It's hard not to," he said.
- Reach Amy Peiffer at email@example.com.
Fall in love
The Pennsylvania Alpaca Owners and Breeders Association showcase runs from 8:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Saturday and 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday in the Utz Arena, at the York Expo Center, 334 Carlisle Ave., West Manchester Township.
Spectators are encouraged to attend on Saturday, when special events throughout the day include the fleece-to-shawl demonstration, the alpaca performance and obstacle course classes, the halter classes and the herdsire parade.
Admission and parking are free.
For more information, visit paoba.org and click on "2014 showcase."