Thursday, May 10, 2012

Choosing a Herdsire

Choosing a Herdsire
As we ease into Springtime, we begin to think of breeding our alpacas once again for next year’s cria.  The selection of an alpaca herdsire is crucial in matching them up not only with the right female, but in competing with other male alpacas nationwide.  We have had hundreds of babies born on our farm, but only a few have been deemed good enough to be of breeding quality. 
As a breeder, you always need to be “breeding up”, creating softer, finer, crimpier animals with better conformation, proportion and curb appeal.  An up and coming breeder needs to be better not only than the males on your farm, but most of the other farms in the nation.  There is not a perfect animal out there, but you need to be moving the fiber program forward.  The key is to match the specific positive attributes of the stud being considered, to the gaps in your planned breeding program, and trust that the stud in question will pass on those attributes into your herd. What was a great alpaca 5 years ago likely would likely not pass the test today. This choice of stud is critical - you will have to live with the result for many years. Make sure it is a fully informed decision that best meets your breeding plan, not one driven by hype, trend, show results or stud marketing.
Have a breeding goal
What is your breeding goal?  Color?  Fineness?  Staple length?  Less guard hair?  Each one is not necessarily exclusive of another. 
If you do not have a definitive direction, decide where you are aiming to be.  It may be breeding fine fibered whites for the commercial fleece market; breeding for a specific color; breeding for attractive dark brown alpacas with white faces and socks, whatever... Different studs offer different strengths. Each female alpaca needs something different to improve the next generation.
For fiber breeding goals please remember that different fiber characteristics suit different markets and products. Your fiber breeding goals must synchronize with your product intentions for them to succeed.
Whatever your breeding goal is, keep it in mind when choosing a stud. To maximize your return from the stud fee purchase, you need to ensure the male is best suited for your female and your breeding goal.
Selection considerations
View a variety of alpaca males – ideally in person or online.  Review their ARI papers, get fiber samples, check histograms, evaluate coverage, look at their cria & who they were bred to.  No male can perform miracles. 
Age: Age can be a factor to a point, mainly because, like the rest of us, we do not look necessarily as fresh, young and vivacious as we age.  But the genetics are still there and are passed onto their cria.
Pedigree: Check the ARI registry for the pedigree of the stud and your female for common ancestors.  Look at the colors and who they can from.  Is this guy an anomaly or is he consistent with great alpacas in his background?
Color: If you are breeding for whites it is best to breed to a white that has previously thrown a lot of white progeny. Predicting color is a tricky thing.  The white color gene is the most dominant, then brown and black. Breeding for grays is hardest. The color in the background of the male is the least-best indicator of what he will throw in his progeny.  Often matching a male alpaca up with certain colors will produce a specific color, but not always.
Awards are also important.  Has he gone to any shows?  How did he compete again those particular males.  Take a stash of ribbons with a grain of salt.  Make sure they were at sanctioned shows and not from the local county fair.  An award makes a statement about a certain place at a certain time competing against certain males.  However, if there are a lot of ribbons on the backboard, you may want to take notice.

Presence and temperament are at least in part genetic.  We usually do not take this into consideration because you do not know his background and how he was handled.  However, no one wants to work with a crazy alpaca.
Conformation: All alpacas should have proud conformation.  He should stand upright without a sloped neck.  His neck and legs should be the same length, both of which are ¾ the length of the body.  Alpacas naturally have slightly bowed legs, though they should be almost straight.  Occasionally this is hard to tell because of the amount of fleece on the legs.
Fiber traits are many, and very few stud males are strong in all aspects. Micron and shear weight are generally seen to be the most important in huacaya, but these traits are contra-indicative - lower micron and higher shear weight do not necessarily correlate.
Fineness carries a premium, and some breeding programs value fineness well ahead of density. If you are seeking extreme density in a higher micron, chose a stud from a farm that concentrates on dense alpacas.  This is difficult to feel just by putting your hands on him.  “Feeling dense” could mean that he has extremely course fleece…or it could mean his is really dense.  The best way to find this out is to get a punch biopsy.
Consider uniformity (the percentage of the total fleece that is usable in top grade production). Uniformity changes considerably with age. Guard hair in the blanket is very undesirable because it will make itchy, scratchy alpaca clothing.  But, guard hairs in the chest area are considered acceptable because this fleece is used in a different manner.
You want crimp, but not too much crimp.  Crimpy fiber helps garments stay together when made into yarn, but too much crimp gets bogged up in the mill machines and causes problems.

You are making an important decision in choosing a stud. Take some time and effort to make the right one. Match the information you gain to your specific herd improvement need.