Llamas and Alpacas steal the show at 4-H Fair

Logan McConnell dresses up as a Secret Service agent while escorting his Alpaca as Donald Trump during the Hancock County 4-H Llama and Alpaca Costume Contest. Sunday, June 19, 2022. (Tom Russo | Daily Reporter)

HANCOCK COUNTY — The goal is to be memorable. Dressed as a secret service agent, dark sunglasses and ear piece included, Logan McConnell was protecting his alpaca named Jasmine who he had dressed up as President Donald Trump.

Complete with a blonde flowing wig sitting on the top of her already fluffy hair and a bright red business tie around Jasmine’s neck, it looked like Logan accomplished his goal of making sure the audience remembered them both.

Jasmine and Logan were just one pair of the nearly 20 team contestants taking part in the Llama and Alpaca Costume Show Sunday evening at the Hancock County Fairgrounds, helping kick off the fair activities.

A six-year 4-H member, Logan is a freshman at Greenfield-Central High School and said working with his animal and competing in the costume show is always one of his favorite things to do during the fair.

“It is the funnest thing I do all week,” he said, just prior to taking center stage in the West Arena.

This year however, he’d have some pretty stiff competition from the others in his category. In all, 18 county kids along with either their llama or alpaca took part in the event divided into the junior, intermediate and senior divisions.

One of Logan’s competitors was G-CHS freshman Ava Gentry, who was dressed as Dorthy from the Wizard of Oz while her alpaca, Riley, was dressed as the Tin Man. Ava has been in 4-H for five years and has worked with Riley, known as a persnickety alpaca, since the alpaca was a baby.

“Riley doesn’t like anyone else but me,” Ava said. “He didn’t like getting the pants on for his costume and was kicking and spitting.”

Still, the costume show along with being in the club is all in good fun, Ava said. She loves the relationships she and the other kids develop with the animals as well as with each other.

“Some of my best friends are probably in 4-H,” Ava said. “I’ve done this contest every year and it’s so much fun because we get to dress up and dance to music and being around the animals, it’s my happy place and is always the best part of my week.”

Most of the county kids taking part in the costume show use a llama or alpaca they have been paired with since joining the Llama and Alpaca Club, said club superintendent Jesse Melton. Melton owns 22 of the llamas and alpacas in the club and shares them with the county kids who want to learn animal skills.

“This right here is just a huge trust-building opportunity for the kids with the animals,” Melton said. “Any time you can put a hat or a sock on one of these animals, that means they trust you completely.”

Melton and his family have deep ties at the county fair and have been working with kids and animals at the fair for decades. He said this week brings a lot of joy each year, particularly the costume show.

“It takes a lot of work to get the kids to this point,” Melton said. “This is the fun part, even though some of these animals will blow up in the show area here and shake their heads and toss their costumes off.”

That however is what the costume show is all about for Alie Bewley, who was competing for the last time. She graduated from Eastern Hancock High School a year early because she wants to work more with llamas and alpacas. Melton is hoping to train Alie and help her build her own herd so she can eventually take over the leadership role in the local club.

Alie, who was competing in the senior division of the costume contest with her alpaca Raven, said the animals have been a true godsend in her life and have even lifted her spirits when she was down. It’s an experience she wants to share with other county kids.

“You build such a good relationship with the animals,” Alie said. “I just fell in love with them the first time I met them, and I want other kids to have that experience.”

Ali dressed Raven, a coal black alpaca, as a memorial scrapbook showcasing her time in 4-H. Alie admitted the costume show is a tad nerve-wracking at times, but said it’s always fun.

“I used to be so competitive and always wanted to win, but now it’s just for fun,” Alie said. “Raven just loves to get out there and prance.”

One youngster who was still feeling his way at the costume show was Maxwell Elementary school student Eli Avery. He was dressed as a fisherman with his llama, Kodiak, looking a lot like a fish.

Lined up to be the first contestant in the costume show, with his fishing pole in hand, Eli was excited to take part.

“This is my second or third year,” he said. “I like it.”

Eli’s grandmother, Alana Stiener, enrolled him in the club and said it’s been a great bonding experience for the two of them, and the costume show was the cherry on the top.

“We really do have so much fun doing this,” Stiener said as she adjusted Kodiak’s costume one final time before the show started.

From the looks, laughs and cheers Eli and the other contestants received from the packed crowd who enjoyed the costumes and the interaction with the animals, it was indeed a memorable show.

4-H Llama and Alpaca Contest winners:

Champion Junior: Lane Bassett — The Flintstones

Reserve Champion Junior: Natalyia Sleeth — The Addams Family

Champion Intermediate: Ava Gentry — The Wizard of Oz

Reserve Champion Intermediate: Layla Bagnall — Strawberry Shortcake

Champion Senior: Alie Bewley — Memories

Reserve Champion Senior: Alayna Waltz — Barbie & Ken

Grand Champion Costume: Alie Bewley

Reserve Grand Champion Costume: Lane Bassett