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We try to explore something new in our community every weekend, so were drawn yesterday to the 11th annual AlpacaMania at the Jackson County Fairgrounds.

Kathleen Kenna photo

Who could resist? It was billed as “the friendliest alpaca show in the world.”

It was such a delight to meet owners — mostly women — from California, Oregon and Washington state. The owners are as friendly as their animals are curious.

We’ve seen alpacas in their native Peru, but never had the joy of close encounters like this.

Alpacas are even softer than we imagined. They don’t like to be patted on the head, like dogs, but prefer a gentle stroke on the neck.

They appear very gentle, yet will spit when threatened, like llamas. Their owners cautioned us about this, but we figured these alpacas were so well-adjusted and obviously so well-loved, we didn’t see any spitting. Maybe they were just on their best behavior for the blue ribbons at show.

Alpacas draw the smallest admirers. (Hadi Dadashian photo)

We lingered at pens and learned about huacayas and suris, Peruvian breeds and American names — “Grand Duke Archibald” for one — and chatted with owners about the care of alpacas.

These elegant animals are raised for their fleece. It’s considered one of the strongest and softest natural fibers, and much-desired by artists and artisans. (In Peru, alpaca fiber becomes everything from sweaters to art murals.)

The alpacas were so sweet, we fantasized about buying some land (a common hazard of living next to rural areas). Our fantasy — very fleeting, to be sure — was fueled by owners who advised it only takes an acre to support a couple of alpacas.

One woman confessed she had six on one acre, and explained she was looking for another property, to expand, because she wants to buy more alpacas. She was one of several mother-daughter partnerships we discovered.

Alpacas seem to eat non-stop. (Kathleen Kenna photo)

Raising alpacas is popular all over the U.S.; it’s a growing industry because of the high value of fleece. Some urban alpaca owners invest in the animals, then “board” them at local farms. (This is called “agisting” — our vocabulary is improving, living in Southern Oregon.)

“They’ve saved me,” another confessed. “I don’t know what I would do without them.”

She was speaking about retirement, and the companionship of animals, while removing bits of green stuff from Abby’s oh-so-soft coat.

“She’s been rolling around in wild mint — I don’t know what’s the attraction,” the owner said.

Alpaca as rock star. (Hadi Dadashian photo)

The alpacas were white, cream-colored, chocolate, charcoal, and copper. There were a few black ones, and some, mixed chocolate and cream, and a few had especially striking coats of black and white.

They’re smaller than the llamas we encounter all over rural Oregon, about 3 to 4 feet tall, depending on those elongated necks. (Asked about the difference between llamas and alpacas, one breeder said, “About 160 pounds.”)

Alpacas need companionship, we learned. They have strong herding instincts, and need other alpacas to thrive.

Just like humans.

There’s a reason alpacas are in pairs, usually same gender. (Kathleen Kenna photo)