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story.lead_photo.caption Liam Liddell, 2, reaches out to offer food to an alpaca Saturday during Alpacapalooza at the Heifer International Village and Urban Farm in Little Rock. More photos are available at - Photo by Thomas Metthe

An alpaca's appeal is not just its fluffy fleece, explained Christopher Wyman, a consultant and contractor with Heifer International.

What Wyman said he "enjoys most" about the creatures is the preponderance of quality manure. Like rabbit feces, alpaca waste is a phenomenal plant fertilizer.

Wyman told this and other facts to a crowd gathered around a pen on the Heifer Village and Urban Farm campus in downtown Little Rock on Saturday.

Onlookers were attending Alpacapalooza 2018, hosted by the global hunger and poverty relief charity. Six alpacas -- Charlie, Flirt, Lady, Lucky, Mystique and Noche -- could be fed and petted between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.

Gallery: Alpacapalooza Festival

An alpaca looks less like an animal that has evolved through natural selection and more like a child's drawing of the perfect playmate: round, moist eyes, a long neck that swivels, a fluffy coat and two toes per foot.

They trot. They roll in dirt, like chickens. They love being hosed down. And they spit less than camels or llamas, Wyman said.

Some people in the crowd, like Cindy Richardson, weren't alpaca novices. She and her husband operate the Featherz Nest Alpacas farm in Grapevine.

Her business card says they have "100% NATURAL Paca Poo available!"

Richardson said she first touched alpaca fiber in the 1980s, and it felt like melted butter. She promised herself she'd raise alpacas of her own some day.

In 2015, after a decade of researching, she and her husband bought their first alpaca. They now have 16. Some are shy while others are bolder. One loves kisses. Another prefers hugs, Richardson said.

"They're just a joy to be around," she said.

Harper Lennon squealed with joy when she felt Flirt skirt by her outstretched hand with nails painted blue with white polka dots. While not her favorite animal, alpacas do make an appearance on her "silliest" animals list.

Maddie Doran, a gold bow in her hair, told her mother she liked the alpacas' sizable backsides.

"I like alpaca butts and I cannot lie," Doran sang to the tune of "Baby Got Back," a popular 1992 song by the artist Sir Mix-a-Lot.

A common question that arose among Alpacapalooza attendees was, aren't these llamas?

In fact, an alpaca is similar to the llama, though there are significant differences. A llama is about twice the size of an alpaca and has longer ears. An alpaca's face is more compact.

And, according to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, alpacas are more timid, whereas llamas can act as guard animals. On Saturday, the alpacas tended to stick close together, appearing shy or content, unless a dog passed by. Then, their ears perked up and they hustled to the fence.

Allison Liddell, a teacher in the North Little Rock School District, said she had to refer to the alpacas as llamas to entice her 2-year-old, Liam, into going to the Saturday event.

Liddell's, and her son's, favorite animal is the llama, so "alpacas are part of the package deal," she said.

When Liam was not holding food pellets in his palm, he dangled a stuffed llama, also named Liam, over the bottom rail of the pen's fence.

He called to Noche and Mystique with words that sounded like "llama" but also like "mama" and just "ahh."

"He's more patient than I thought he would be," Liddell said, smiling as Liam dumped another handful of food pellets into the grass. The alpacas grazed near the toddler but remained just out of reach.

Photo by Thomas Metthe
Tate Carroll, 5, of North Little Rock pours compost into a worm harvester Saturday during Alpacapalooza at the Heifer International Village and Urban Farm in Little Rock.

Metro on 03/18/2018

Print Headline: Alpacapalooza's stars show appeal; Llama’s smaller cousin gets top billing at Heifer event

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