Breeding for Improvement – The Next Generation
The general quality of alpacas presented in the Show Ring is improving year on year. Why? Because we breeders are seeing improvement in our own herds, and are determined to keep that momentum going as long as we can, for the benefit of our whole industry. The friendly rivalry in the Show ring is very good for us all, as it keeps us on our breeding toes!
In the UK there is still a residue of unimproved alpacas, some of which came from zoos around the UK and Europe, whose forbears were imported in the mid nineteenth century, and most of which were imported from Chile in the mid 1990’s. Unimproved alpacas are recognisable as they are lighter-boned, lighter-fleeced, and have longer noses, lighter top-knots and less leg coverage than the improved alpacas we mostly see at the Shows today, which originated in Peru, and were exported from there from the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. Alpacas went from Peru to the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. The first Peruvian alpacas destined directly for Europe, specifically Switzerland and the UK were selected from farms in the High Andes by myself, Joy Whitehead of Bozedown Alpacas in May 1998.
All alpacas are good at protecting other livestock such as sheep and chickens, are wonderful field pets, and they will all produce fibre. However, the fleece of the unimproved alpacas may grow more slowly, and be more ‘open’, thus trapping dirt and debris, which does not happen with the more heavily-fleeced Peruvian alpacas. Alpaca breeders are opening up a fibre market for our exclusive UK produce, and so it makes sense to aim to produce clean heavy fleeces with good fineness, as these attract premium prices.
From the time when a female gets pregnant to the cria being born is almost a year. If that cria is a female then it is a further 1-2 years until that young female will be sexually mature. At Bozedown we prefer a female to be about 2 years old when we start to breed her; this means that both breeding and birthing will have less complications associated with them. So you see that it is a 3-year cycle to breed successive generations of females. With such a long cycle, it is paramount to always use the very best stud available to ensure continuing improvement.
A Stud male can be bred to dozens of females every year. A good stud male can improve
By careful observation and record keeping at Bozedown, we have been able to identify some of our breeding stock, both males and females, as ‘pre-potent’ alpacas. This means that, with the females, so long as they are bred with sound males – not necessarily the top animals – they always produce outstanding offspring. Pre-potent studs have the ability to produce an improvement on any female with which they are bred.
There are some top studs which can produce an occasional
There was a time when fineness was thought to be linked to be linked only to body condition, and so some quite thin alpacas were being shown (no longer allowed) in order to gain prizes. However, we now know that fineness is mainly genetic, and so the breeding is paramount. The good news is that fineness is a highly heritable genetic trait, and so great strides are being made in the breeding, with consequent improvement in the quality of the Show alpacas year on year.
At Bozedown Alpacas we evaluate all our stock twice a year. Then we evaluate their fleece at shearing, and so we build up a good picture of them overall. We may get some pleasant surprises checking through the stock as they get older, as we find that some alpacas which may not have appeared outstanding as weanlings, develop into pretty special adults, as they maintain their fibre fineness while achieving high fleece weights.
As the quality of the top alpacas goes up, so the sale price differential between highest and lowest quality increases.
N.B. Colour contamination can be white fibres in a fawn, brown or black fleece, fawn or brown fibres in a white fleece, or black fibres in a fawn fleece. Colour contamination can be eliminated from fleeces through a strict breeding programme.
by Joy Whitehead
This article appeared in the magazine Sheep, Goats and Alpacas, May 2014