We fully understand the importance of showing alpacas amongst today’s breeders. It is an important stage to share and receive varied judges’ evaluations and expose your herd accomplishments with other breeders. In the same token as alpaca breeders of over 25 years we know the real value in our alpacas is proven by deeper statistical performance from shearing’s, histogram testing, and personal screening of progeny which we have under taken on our entire herd from the first 10 we purchased to the over 1000 we have in our fields today.
Many have asked us if we are using EPD program.
No we are presently not using the EPD program. We use our own program and one that is quite simple and needs no algebraic computation. The Incans did it without it, so can we! The honest fact is that we want to compare the data first hand ourselves and then equate this to our field assessments and screening on the animals themselves, make our notes and record them in an old fashion way that we can fully understand.
There are lots of astute and statistical number and chart oriented people in this business and they may be more comfortable with these types of programs. We are not against it but at this time in the Industry we have our concerns which we have written about below.
In general we strongly feel that EPD programs should be run independently of our breed organization and the last place it should be implemented in is within our registry.
There already is a working EPD program out there that is doing the work that needs to be done to refine a program to become more of a science. We as an Industry have a long way to go before we can really call this a science and it should remain in the community being worked on as it is. ARI had no right to try and duplicate this program and or take this on independently without the objective or directive of its membership. We are a member based organization the last time I looked. I was never asked as a member, were you?
Snowmass Alpacas agrees with the Ideal Alpaca Community completely on this one.
Please visit their web site HERE
Snowmass Alpacas thoughts on EPD’s
EPD’s need a lot of adjustments and developed understanding before we feel it will be able to take our breeding programs to an advanced level as in fact EPD are designed to do.
Most EPD are performed on breeds with specific standards and traits that can be scientifically and evenly measured across a breed.
First of all there has been no overall true consensus amongst the breeding community about which specific traits are most important to statistically measure in alpacas outside of micron. Alpaca fiber in and of itself is as broad in type and kind and micron as over 50 breeds of sheep. Secondly there is no full proof method to collect fiber samples which are not subject to multiple variables, and or that truly represent the genetic value of the entire fleece from one sampling site. Again the alpaca is in stages of advancement so most of our alpacas fleeces are not even or consistent across the blanket or prime fleece of the alpaca in comparision to an advanced breed of sheep which has thousands of years more breeding behind it.
More importantly the alpaca community still has basic work in teaching proper shearing and sorting techniques to adequately measure value in fleece weight as well as proper sampling for histogram testing.
When you know a large percentage of breeder population still uses the practice of weighing the individual alpaca on a scale before shearing, then after the alpaca is completely shorn, is weighed again to obtain the TFW = (TOTAL FLEECE WEIGHT) and precisely where the 11 to 13 pound weights come in. Then one mid side sample is taken from the fleece and recorded as the EPD statistic for entire 11 to 13 pounds of fleece. This is a false sense of greatness… and used in marketing is one thing but as a marker for breeding improvement it’s all wrong.
Literally TFW can be everything from pacapoo, hair and sweat and spit and everything else that was not sorted from the alpaca.
SFW=(SORTED FLEECE WEIGHTS) may be better but again takes the time and learning curve to understand proper sorting techniques to make this a standard for EPD measurements.
- Meaning how much prime blanket, show ready or saleable prime fleece did this alpaca produce?
- How many valuable seconds from neck to leg to prime blanket was measured?
- How much weight was in the 3rds or disposed of pile from this fleece?
I think the disposed of value weight measurement at least gives you an honest measurement of how much improvement needs to happen in the alpaca. We should have very little disposal weight from shearing.
If this TFW information is used for marketing and everyone is looking to try and compete with these fictitious 11 and 12 pound total fleece weights we will be right in line with Peru who failed to direct their national breeding program to fineness by rewarding breeder by volume and weight verses quality and fineness.
Ok so that’s just one element of EPD measurements Fleece Weight. This is enough to say we are not ready for this let alone, what about all the other important data that is not being considered.
- What product line are we directing our alpaca EPD’s to reflect?
- How do we measure the style of fleece produced?
- How do we want to measure EPD on CRIMP and CURVATURE measurements?
Knit wear = requires a high curvature shorter staple fiber.
Woven fine luxury wear= Bright long staple lower curvature fleece.
Outer Garment= Higher micron durable good curvature strong average staple length,
Solid color verses variegated?
If we don’t need to have these then we are left with just micron and fleece weight.
What about conformational traits.
Large, Tall, Short, frame
Overall proportion and balance
As alpaca breeders we should know how to evaluate these traits but what system of measurements are we using to enter them as EPD’s? Do we have a breed standard for conformation…? I don’t think we do. Correct is a broad statement. I think there is a great difference in conformation type of a true alpaca and that exhibits traits of its cousin the much larger Lama. I think an alpaca should be smaller in stature and have a slightly sloping top line lower tail set and head and neck that sits lower off the back line than the llama. Its also acceptable for them to be slightly narrower in their chest.
Many AOBA judges want our alpacas to be larger over all. To have straight top lines, broad chests, and necks that come straight off the top line. Sound familiar; it’s the cousin the Llama. Many judges want the alpaca to move out more like a llama or horse. We can certainly breed them for this way. Should we? ( see our opinion in conformational traits below)
We think in due time EPD’s will have a valued place in our industry and we have no problem with Independent programs working on this. Having said that, we remain firm believers in developing your own system of alpaca evaluation for your breeding program.
Using your own program to evaluate and record your breeding program.
Learn conformational traits what’s faultless, and what is an acceptable variance. Alpacas are not llamas so their conformations are quite different. We have argued this for many years. Many breeders and judges have learned to like and respect the straight broad frame of the llama which were plentiful in this country as a breed much longer than the alpaca. So many judges were originally trained to appreciate the straight top line and broad stance of the llama and translated this to the alpaca frame just in smaller version.
However there is a natural selective reason for being smaller and having different adaptations for body conformation than its cousin the llama which relates directly to their ancestors being the guanaco and vicuna. The domestication of these species also proves to have made variable adaptations to specific traits as well.
The Guanaco was mainly domesticated for work and beast of burden. They were captured trained and harnessed to work in hand with man and were also a source of wool and meat. The vicuna primarily was too small for this and remained in herds and captured as needed for harvesting of its highest valued fleece and meat as needed by regulation of their civilizations societal hierarchy. So the vicuna retained its frame that best suited its agility and movement in the natural environment. Those vicuna kept in captivity and bred in captivity were mainly adaptive in coloration and fleece verses change in body and frame and are known today as the alpaca. These two very distinct breeds remained very significant in the lives and cultures of the humans that lived in hand with them. Each specie had a very significant and specific purpose to fulfill and closely segregated from any cross breeding between the two.
Well we all know what happened when this civilization met with another. They call it the pre-Columbian era for a reason. Everything unraveled as did the art and science of the pre-Columbian Camelid breeding programs. Survival has been the key factors for most of the peoples in these regions and cross breeding is common place. So what is pure and what is not is very hard to determine but has become a scientific quest to identify, understand and to recover. With new science and dedicated scientists these individual species are finding their place and importance. Both the alpaca and, genetically pure alpaca, are being identified and being bred to remain one of the finest fiber producers of more than 22 natural colors, The Llama to retain its size stature and prominence as one of the most magnificent standing South American Camelids.
The vicuna is being protected as is the Guanaco and monitored for habitat and healthy proliferation.
Now back to traits of an Alpaca. How are they different than the Llama in frame and type.
Let’s start by looking carefully at the conformation of the vicuna. (You can Google vicuna and see many, and or obtain a copy of the latest alpaca magazine Autumn 2009 which has a magnificent story on Viva Vicuna by Francis E.B. Rainsford page 102. with marvelous pictures of vicuna.)
The vicuna adapted a very appropriate and well functioning conformation for grazing on varied slopes and their limbs are specifically designed for agility in moving quickly and out run predators. You can see they are much narrower in their overall frame from the chest cavity down to through both front and rear legs. They have a sloping back which allows for more spring like action between the front and rear body in their running gait which also allows for the mechanics of the head and neck to move more naturally and freely in rhythm with their running gate.
They have large almond shape eyes with dark long eyelashes which for me is most beautiful feature of the vicuna and alpaca. Their mussels are soft and short and refined and their ears are perfectly proportioned to this refined head. They are sharply triangular and rest on the back of their head so they align perfectly to their eyes and nose when they hold them back. When you watch the vicuna or alpaca you can see how well their ears are attuned to their eyes and how they work in perfect synchronicity.
The head is a very important distinguishing feature between the vicuna and the guanaco and for us as breeders of alpacas it is very important to see these vicuna traits and features in our alpacas.
We also need to keep in mind that they are not llamas and that angulations and narrower frames and sloping top lines are OK and par for traits of this breed.
We have increased the size of our alpacas with better feed and nutrition and we have also advanced the production of fine fleece over the body of alpaca which easily distinguish them from a vicuna. However we want to retain the fine fleece of this breed which means they should remain true to their breed type and smaller in frame than their cousins the Llamas.
There are the occasional few that can fit outside the box one being they are very large in comparison to the average. These individuals in our program MUST carry a fine uniform fleece and have no other physical anomalies besides size. In our program we breed these larger individuals to smaller framed alpacas to balance the size and it works beautifully. Having a few larger well defined alpacas that carry all the desired traits of your ideal, and the only trait outside the avereage is size, we find has been advantageous to infuse a balance in strength of conformation into our herd.
As you refine your vision of what is ideal for your breeding program, you can use any kind of software program you like to record each of these ideal individuals traits in every animal year to year. Many of us have been doing this already for many years and there are many programs available that can help record and compare your data. Again this is in house managment program that gives you a direct wealth of comparative data and a significant advantage to obtaining an ideal herd.
Our goals have been quite simple, to have a very uniform herd. We have refined our goals to have a herd of alpacas that are uniformily strong in body and frame and produce an annual grade of fiber that will sort into Royal or Baby in all colors each and every year of their lives regardless of feed variations and climate. We have over a quarter of century relatively achieved our goals, and refine them even more as we can.
Besides Fineness we expect all our fleeces to be bright!
Consistency in quality of fleece over the entire body of the alpaca has been an extremely important goal of ours and after many years of selection we are now seeing cria born with blanket quality fiber clear under their bellies as well as over their entire body.
We also have enhanced and bred for different fiber curvature traits and staple lengths as an added bonus to the other elements of fineness and consistency and brightness which without hesitation must come first.
In our breeding program we have assigned names to these differences as a way to distinguish the uniqueness of each one. The 3 main are:
Vicuna- Being truer to their wild ancestor in EXTREME Fine micron, density and very high curvature in turn creates shorter staple. The advancements are they carry this fleece quality over their entire body increasing the volume of valuable fiber in fleece produced.
Merino- Low micron softer angulation and deeper amplitude of high frequency crimp, forming into small evenly defined staples.
Corriedale- A fleece that like the Merino has a well defined staple but the crimp has a deeper horizontal crimp (Amplitude) than those above. The first fleece forms curly locked staples and many through the second year. However this fleece type looses lock structure as the alpaca ages and the crimp becomes bolder which is also typical of this sheep breed fleece as well. This type of fleece tends to get stronger in micron as the alpaca ages over the other higher frequency crimped fleeces but remains to produce good weight. There is however always the exception to the rule where the few remain fine even in age. We have been successful at keeping this fiber fine in consecutive years of growth by selecting out those individuals who defy the odds and breed them over the population of alpacas we are trying to imprint this genetic trait on and can say with certainty that we have a good number of this fleece type that are showing style and fineness can remain long term with good selection.
Silky-The most distinguishing feature in this alpaca fleece is the heightened Luster EXTREMELY bright fiber exhibiting a low scale height. These fleeces have a lower frequency and lower curvature in their fiber and typically have a deep wave and varying degree of amplitude. We also called these bolder crimped fleeces Romney, Lincoln which are breeds of sheep that produce these very broad long stapled fleeces and Lincoln in particular also is a very lustrous fleece which is a breed standard for this sheep breeed. The Silky Fleece grows a much longer staple. Many of the cria born with this fleece type have a good 2 inches of fleece when born. It appears in our testing that the primary and secondary fibers are already well developed which is not the case with the other fleece types.
• The Alpaca World Market is moving to the next level of trade and recognition and soon we will have many textile interests as our numbers of alpacas grow to meet larger demands. We know from first hand experience that there will be defined demands for these variable fleece types as they equate to specific end product production. The most important universal element of interest is without a doubt FINENESS so what ever trend of crimp is popular that you chose to breed, DON”T FORGET TO SELECT FOR FINENESS!!!!
• WE INVITE EVERYONE to come share, learn, and experience the workings of Snowmass Alpacas at our 2010 sale in Phoenix. Bring a piece of our success home with you in great experience and or with some of our finest genetic stock!