For 103 years, cattle, goats, hogs and sheep have been mainstays at the Carroll County 4-H Fair. This year, they make room for comparatively exotic alpacas and llamas, which make their debut tomorrow as an official animal entry.
"I like the way they look - they're like big, fluffy teddy bears," said Jill Janocha, 15, a Westminster High School junior who is showing Benedict, an alpaca she has taught to walk a ramp, duck while stepping under a shelter, step into and out of water and other tasks required of domesticated animals so that farmers can raise them, groom them and shear their fleece.
The silky alpaca fleece is prized for making sweaters, scarves and other clothing, including fine Italian suits. At the fair, Jill and 13 other 4-H members showing alpacas will demonstrate how to make felt from the animals' fiber and how to spin a silky yarn. Jill will show the felt purse she made from Benedict's fleece.
The alpacas and llamas step into the show ring at 10 a.m. tomorrow, through a special leasing program started two years ago by Jerry Brubach, a Gamber man who owns llamas. The 4-H'ers lease the llamas and alpacas for $1 from Brubach and four alpaca farmers in Carroll and Baltimore counties who are raising the animals for their valuable fleece.
The llama and alpaca farmers, most of whom have children in 4-H, say they're happy to provide the animals as a way to share enthusiasm for raising the animals.
Alpaca owner Kathleen Gridley said alpacas offered her family and others a chance to return to the farm life they have missed but likely would not have had. She said she and others raising alpacas and llamas "may not have enough land to do what their parents did, but you can do this [alpaca farming] with small acreage."
Gridley retired early as a linguist with the federal government to move with her husband and three children to a 5.5-acre farm on Reese Road south of Westminster. The family lived in a Laurel townhouse before making the lifestyle change three years ago.
The rest of the opening weekend of the fair will feature other animal shows and entertainment. Festivities kick off with a country music concert starting at 7 tonight at Carroll County Agriculture Center in Westminster. Gates open at 6 p.m. The opening act is Chris Townson and Ransom, with headline act Wade Hayes taking the stage at 8 p.m. The fair is open from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. tomorrow through Aug. 4.
Tomorrow, magician Roger Lindsay will perform at 1 p.m., 2 p.m. and 3 p.m.; the Old Line Statesman barbershop quartet will sing from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.; Jay Henley of Westminster and the Stone Broke Band will play country music at 6:30 p.m.; and at 8 p.m., the fair will feature a Las Vegas-style show called Imposters, featuring impersonators performing tributes to Trisha Yearwood, Garth Brooks and Reba McIntyre.
Ham Bone Express, a pig racing show, will provide entertainment each day, with times to be announced.
Highlights during the week include the cake auction and commemorative quilt auction at 7 p.m. Wednesday and the livestock auction at 6 p.m. Aug. 4.
One of the favorite stops at the fair is the dining hall, run by Union Bridge dairy farmer Nona Schwartzbeck and staffed by volunteers serving home-style cooking made with local meat and produce mostly donated by Carroll farmers.
Highlights include fried chicken Sunday, barbecued chicken Wednesday and an all-you-can-eat pit beef and pork supper Aug. 4.