Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Picking out your alpaca(s)

Picking Out Your Alpacas

The alpaca industry is constantly changing.
The first alpacas brought into the country in the late 1980's were different to those imported in the late 1990's.
The quality of the alpaca in the U.S. has improved immeasurably over the past 30 years - within a single generational lifespan of the animal.  This is due to selective breeding programs, where often only 1-2% of the alpaca male population helps create the next generation.  This is called up-breeding, selecting the best of the best.  A male born or purchased from another farm must be better than those already used as herdsires.
We often grade our alpacas A, B, C and D.  Over the years, what was once a A quality alpaca five years later is now a C quality.  The fiber has become finer, longer, crimper and overall better because of selective up breeding.
In selecting your alpaca (either females or good stud services) basics are good health, good reproductive capability, zero genetic fault, and type/color to fit your own breeding goals/ business plan.
But you need more. You need the 4 "P"'s of alpaca purchase.
1) Progeny:  genetic quality (genotype) is best judged by looking at the alpaca's offspring -- not just one or two, all of them.   Consistently good progeny equates to strong genetic strength.  You want to make sure this alpaca can pass on its genes.  Some girls may not look that pretty over time, but they consistently produce terrific cria.
2) Pedigree:  younger animals, or newer studs, have no progeny.  In this case the pedigree of the alpaca (available on two registries -- assists judgment.  You want to make sure that the alpaca is not an anomaly, but can be reasonable expected based on its bloodline.
Parents with good progeny records.  Siblings with Show winning record.  Sires used by respected breeders.  These are indications that the offspring will carry the quality traits of the parent.  Pedigree is a reasonable way of assessing genotype.
Pedigree is harder for the newcomer, because it assumes prior knowledge of world renowned bloodlines.  This means research. Naming a stud "Captain Fantastic", does not mean it is fantastic.
But remember that the U.S. has had a registry for nearly 20 years now, and most of the "venerable ancestors" have significant numbers of offspring on the registry, winning shows, and acting as successful studs in their own right.
South American countries have not yet developed registries.  Imports therefore have no pedigree (and usually no progeny) data to assess.
3) Phenotype:  how an alpaca "looks".   We call this “curb appeal.  When walking through our farm, many people are drawn to the same animals because of certain traits – color, posture, a fluffy head or stove pipe legs.    Phenotype can be a reasonable proxy for underlying genotype.  Unfortunately not always.
 the U.S. research shows phenotype -- particularly fiber characteristic -- is immensely affected by environment.  Look at the farm’s current surroundings and ask how the breeder’s feels the fleece could be affected at your farm.  Temperature, rain, sand, head can all impact the end use fiber.
 4) Price:  clearly the price of your alpaca has to fit your pocket.  Generally higher quality animals carry higher prices.  But beware the reverse price "snob" syndrome.  Whilst a cheap price generally means lower quality, a higher price does not of itself guarantee better quality.