Do You Have Much Competition?

Is That an Emu?
Can You Ride Them?
Do They Spit?

Remember those days when the top alpaca questions confused alpacas with emus, and everyone thought they spit?  “We’ve come a long way baby!”  As an industry, we have worked tirelessly to educate the public about alpacas.  As farmers, one of our favorite pastimes is to talk about alpacas to curious visitors.    We accept the invitation to take alpacas to events.  We’ve been to schools, cities, and beaches.  We’ve seen alpacas surfing, riding in cars, and skateboarding.  All of this to educate the public about these animals.  Yes, we’ve made significant progress in promoting the alpaca image and their many virtues and contributions to society.

We’ve changed the nomenclature… “fur” is now “fiber.”
We’ve educated as to the animal group… “emu” is not the same as an “alpaca.”
We’ve differentiated the members of their family… “an alpaca vs. a llama.”
We’ve clarified that “you can’t ride an alpaca.”
And to some extent, we’ve helped to dispel the myth that alpacas will charge you and spit on you!

But I was caught off guard by a recent question posed by a patron at our Guest House when they asked: “Do you have much competition?”   I had to pause, as it spoke volumes to me concerning how we, the alpaca industry, have created our image, not through spoken words, but rather in our actions. 

“Do you have much competition?”  That was her FIRST question.

I clicked through a list of likely responses.

Yes, the alpaca industry is very competitive.
Yes, but we all get along and try to help one another.
Yes, the shows are getting smaller in number, but those show entries create a more robust competition.
Yes, but I always celebrate for my clients to beat me in the ring.
Yes, the fleeces are so much better today, especially in the grey ring.

Yes, we have changed our image…from huggable investment to fierce competitor.

Instead, I smiled through gritted teeth and told her yes, I had much competition.  And then I told her about my opponents.

I have to compete with synthetic fibers.
I have to compete with the cheap manufacture.
I have to compete with chemically altered “natural” fibers.
I have to compete using an animal that takes long to see genetic improvement.
I have to compete using an animal that has many variables, many that I cannot control.
I have to compete in a world where we produce a luxury item and not a life necessity.
I have to compete against other fiber livestock that have a faster population growth for mass production.
I have to compete in a world where we try to expand our borders into the livestock world and yet we do not attempt to assimilate other livestock models.
I have to compete in an industry where most of us have concentrated on the development of seed stock supply and not end product demand.
I have to compete in an industry where most of us have never created a business plan.
I have to compete in an industry where most of us concur without performing exploratory fact-finding or necessary scrutiny.

I have to compete in an industry where most of us do not have a long-term strategic plan.

That is my competition.

Colleague vs competitor pollIt is one thing to have the populace ask such a question. Unfortunately, it is unsettling to have a colleague ask the same type question in a poll of an alpaca Facebook group members.    Although I do not know the author’s intentions in asking such as a question, I found it interesting to see this poll.

I doubt that anyone approaches a farmer or rancher and asks them if they have much competition.  The livestock industry is not a competition.  It is a production industry.  Most livestock production is for food, while a lesser part is for luxury items such as clothing made from natural fibers.  Farming and ranching are not about winning a ribbon in the show ring, or about having a high sale that we can post our success on social media.  And yet, I wonder if that is how onlookers see our industry.  

I believe we’ve helped to create that image. Yes, we have plenty of competition.  However, I don’t think it’s in the ring.  In the livestock industry, the real struggle is against the forces that keep us from earning a living, progressing our sector, and fulfilling our dreams and aspirations.     The opposition is stiff, and not always apparent, but the price to be paid by not engaging far exceeds our best efforts to win.  That’s the poll that we need to ask our alpaca community.

For further discussion, see this post and others in Facebook Groups Farmers and Ranchers
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