One of the best places to get close to alpacas and have a chance to ask questions of their owners is at a show. Today, many agricultural shows and events include alpacas. This may be just a few animals in a pen together with a display of products made from their wonderful fibre or it may be, as in the case of the British Alpaca Society (BAS), a full-scale competitive show.

The BAS has an ever-expanding show calendar ranging from Devon to Northumberland and Cumbria to Sussex. The Society has drawn up rules under which its shows are conducted and BAS shows will be judged by qualified BAS judges. Becoming a judge isn't easy. The aspiring candidate must successfully complete three increasingly rigorous training courses. They are then required to apprentice a qualified judge at two shows to demonstrate their competence in the actual show ring. All BAS judges are also required to re-certify every three years as a means of ensuring the high standards are maintained.

The first BAS show this year is being organised by the South West Alpaca Group, one of the Society's regional groups. It will be held at the Bristol Sales Centre, Washingpool, Easter Compton, Bristol BS35 5RE on 4-5 April. The Sales Centre has easy access being only two miles from Junction 17 on the M5.

Showing will start at 10.00 am each day. This will be a halter show where the animals themselves are judged against each other. Other shows during the year will include fleece classes.

In BAS shows, all animals must be recorded on the BAS Pedigree Registry to qualify for entry.

Classes are first divided by alpaca type. The huacaya alpaca is the commonest found in the UK. It has a dense, crimped fleece giving the animal a 'teddy bear' look. The suri alpaca has a silky fleece which hangs down in long ringlets.

The next division is by age, beginning with Juniors (6-12 months old at the date of the show), Intermediates, Adults and Seniors (24+ months). Classes in each age group are then divided by colour. Although alpacas have 22 recognised fleece colours, show classes are restricted to white, fawn, brown, grey and black. Within the fawn and brown classes there may be a further division into light, medium and dark. Animals which do not fit into any of these categories can enter the multi-coloured class. Although a fleece of a uniform is the easiest to process, multi-coloured animals can still supply good quality fibre, albeit in smaller quantities for each colour.

Alpacas in a class will be brought into the ring and paraded in front of the judge. The judge will be looking for a number of points such as a good gait, teeth that are properly aligned and a tail without a kink or twist. The physical attributes contribute 40 per cent of the final score. The other 60 per cent of the marks are for the animal's fleece. Factors here include fineness, density, strength and brightness/lustre, with the additional factor of crimp for huacaya and lock style for suri.

Having inspected all the animals, the judge will call forward the top ones. After a final check, the decision will be made and the rosettes awarded.

Because it is important that any breeding animal shows the ability to pass on its good genetics, shows will also include classes for Sire's progeny and Dam's progeny. The first consists of three animals all with the same father but generally different mothers. Dam's progeny is for two offspring from the same female, not necessarily with the same father. In these classes it is not uncommon to see animals which look like peas from a pod - if of different ages and sizes.

A show may have championships for the different colour groups where the winners of the different age categories are compared. As breeders continue to improve their stock, shows are increasingly introducing another championship category - Best of British. This requires at least one of the parents and possibly both to be British bred and is designed to showcase the quality of the UK breeding programme. However, the climax of any show is the selection of the Supreme Champions, huacaya and suri. The owners of these animals can be justly proud of their achievement.