Herd Improvement through judicious Choice of
By Nic Cooper, Southern Alpacas Stud
the choice grows in NZ for studs, the buyer needs to become more discerning.
key for breeders, whether buying a male or buying stud services, is to match
the specific attributes of the stud being considered, to the gaps
in your breeding programme, and hope that the stud in question will pass on
those attributes into your herd.
There is no overall “better/best” in all of this - no overall brilliant stud,
way ahead of the rest. Different studs offer different strengths. Go and see the
stud(s) on offer, enquire about genetic background, get hands on the progeny,
see the documents for shear weights and microns, ask for AGE data, and match the information you
gain to your specific herd improvement need.
What is your breeding goal? If you have not got one
– get one. It may be breeding fine fibred whites for the commercial fleece
market. Or attractive dark brown alpacas with white faces and socks,
and a nice temperament for pets.
Alpaca breeders should breed "up", to add quality and/or vigour
and diversity to the herd. Now that we have AGE, the
Across-herd Genetic Evaluation, what is being bred for, can be
The use of “venerable ancestors” has had a huge positive
influence on the herd in Australasia and USA, and now, after 12 years, their
improved sons and grandsons are available as studs. The improved but lesser know
son should be a better value buy than the lauded venerable ancestor or unproven,
For fibre breeding goals please remember that different fibre
characteristics suit different markets and products.
What crimp style do you want to breed? Are you after density or fineness? SD and
fibre breeding goals must synchronise with your product intentions for them to
Whatever your breeding goal is, to maximise your return from the
stud fee or male purchase, you need to ensure the male is best suited for your
female and your breeding plan.
Ask for the AGE data - Across-herd Genetic Evaluation - generated for the male.
The AGE project, whilst in its infancy, is
the first real targeted, mathematical, unbiased key performance indicator system
for alpacas. Use it! Match the factors you consider important in your breeding
goal with the AGE ranking of various studs you are considering.
Check the registry for the pedigree of the stud and your female for
common ancestors, especially with Australasia’s small genetic base. Line
breeding is, in my opinion, an absolute no-no in these animals at this stage of
Always expect a few exceptions here, but (for example) if you are breeding for
whites it is best to breed to a white that is homozygous white, not
heterozygous, especially if some of your females display brown spots or fawn
glazing. Breeding for black is genetically the easiest. Breeding for greys,
the hardest. (see our article on this)
All alpacas should have perfect conformation. But if your female has, for
example, slightly sickle hocks do not mate her to a male with a similar trait.
If you have a preference for nose shapes, select that way, similarly with body
Presence and temperament
are at least in part genetic. If these things are important for you, select for
them in your purchase and stud decisions.
are many, and very few stud males are strong in all aspects. Micron and
shearweight are generally seen to be the most important in huacaya, lustre in
But micron and shearweight are contra-indicative - lower micron
and higher shearweight do not easily go hand-in-hand.
Don Julio Barreda’s long given advice to fix density in your herd before
attempting to improve fineness.
Also consider lustre and fleece character (crimp or style).
Crimp style is becoming a more important breeding selection
The importance of crimp is still debated. But recent research (Yocum-McColl
and Cameron Holt) is making things a lot clearer.
In alpaca there is a close correlation between fineness,
curvature and crimps per inch (cpi). Higher curvature figures correlate
positively to a higher number of crimps per inch, and negatively with fibre
diameter (i.e. high curve, and high cpi mean finer fibre.)
Consider uniformity (the percentage of the total fleece that is
usable in top grade production). Uniformity changes considerably with age.
Also consider uniformity across your herd. When mixing fleece to
make a product, the constituent fleeces should be similar (uniform). Look at
your herd statistics, not just individual alpacas, and see how you can select
and use studs to minimise your within herd divergence.
YOUR STUD DECISION
This is your business, and apart from your initial female purchase decision, the
stud fee/male purchase is about the most critical long term success decision you
will make. 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.
Check through in your own mind what you are hearing to ensure that it makes
sense, and is supported by the facts.
Remember the alpaca industry is maturing and changing quickly.
For the last decade we have relied on “venerable ancestors” to breed to our
females. If we are truly progressing we need to be using the (best) offspring of
these forefathers. In a successful breeding programme, the son will supplant his
sire in 3 – 4 years.
BUY IN OR CONTRACT IN ?
Whether to buy a stud or contract in stud services is a decision all breeders
get to eventually as their female numbers mount and consequently stud fees add
move from stud services to stud ownership should be phased in, with three steps,
as the herd grows.
- Buying in stud
- Buying in stud
services, negotiating for discounted fees or free matings as part of a package
- Purchasing a stud, or
a share in a stud.
If purchasing, the
outlay for a “top” stud can be in excess of what smaller breeders can find
economic, with well over $50,000 being not unusual for an imported proven top
genetic stud male. I have seen a number of smaller breeders paying $10,000 -
$15,000 for unproven males with very little genetic strength, and being
disappointed with the resulting progeny.
Less expensive than buying, is breeding your own. To do this you have to
own a very high quality female, buy in top stud services for her, and hope for
the birth of a male at the top end of the potential genetic spectrum of both
parents. Genetic statistics indicate that occurrence of such an event is rare.
There are pro’s and con’s to the buy/contract decision:
You save stud fees, but it is expensive to get a good proven quality stud
Tendency to go for cheaper unproven males, giving fertility, pre-potency and
progeny risk, and management problems in the bring-in phase
Physical management of a stud on the farm can be a hassle, especially if the
male is not getting constant work
Getting a young male “settling” his first female (getting her pregnant) can at
times be difficult
Need to get into
“a whole new business line” offering stud services to offset the cost of the
purchase (requiring capital costs of stud transport, time, and stud master
Still need outside stud fees for your stud’s offspring and for your best
female(s) to improve your herd
Re-sale values of stud males tend to plummet with age
In all but the exceptional circumstance the reward of owning your own stud is
not great. In USA I asked the owner of the male winning its colour age class in
AOBA, and the Reserve Colour Champion, how many outside matings (at US$3,000)
he, as a small breeder, had achieved. The answer was 4 this year, 3 last year.
Proven stud arrives
for a fortnightly visit – or your girl goes to him
bring-on risk and additional business hassle left to the professional
There is an ability to
switch stud should the progeny from the combination of genetics not be what
Using different stud
males ensures wide genetics and avoids line breeding within your herd
Regular payments are
required for stud service fees - although overall “value” should be given
through the offspring and return service guarantees
know one breeder
who “finances” the year’s stud fees through the sale of one female, but the fees
of course produce several females each year to replace her.
We are finding that purchasing “part” of a higher quality stud male gives
smaller breeders the ability to achieve a higher genetic level, for a lower
price long term, and with more flexibility, than the full own stud ownership
Here is an example from a consultancy I am undertaking for a small breeder in
the North East USA:
They have several females (white with a tendency to brown spots), a white stud
male with an excellent named sire behind him but nondescript dam, and a brown
stud male that originated from NZ Chilean stock (!), but who had just won a
second in his class at the Nationals. They were disappointed in their female
offspring’s results at the Nationals, and asked advice on how to improve them.
They had a breeding plan – to breed high quality white huacayas. But they
had no shearweights, no microns, and were intending to put the daughters of
their white stud to their brown male. My first advice was – don’t!
My second advice was to find out where their herd stood - what attributes
were strong, and what needed improvement.
A “hands on”, knowing the sire, confirmed the expected - females with good
conformation, fine, and lustrous, but little density, and the character of
fleece was inconsistent down the staple and around the body. The animals
carried no presence.
We needed more solid data and this was easy to obtain as we were at the
largest alpaca show on earth at the AOBA (Alpaca Owners and Breeders
Association) Conference. Down to the shearers -
shear, segregate, grade, weigh the fleece. Indeed density/shearweight was a
concern, as was the low percentage of fleece that was first grade.
Then to the micron tester with samples. In the USA microns are rarely
tested, due, I think due to a fallacy put around by bigger breeders that micron
testing can be abused and hence is not credible. (It certainly saves the
breeders having to defend comparisons!) All three females tested 19 micron,
with a 23% cv.
with the solid data confirming first thoughts, where next? Whilst it was
clear to me that outside stud services were required, the client had to
come to terms with US$3,000+ stud fees, and their females being off farm whilst
it all happened. Fortunately the clients were happy with the suggestion, so we
So off down stud row. We wanted to be sure of holding the female’s better
qualities whilst standing a great chance of improving the weaker ones. We
wanted a stud that at least equalled the females in micron and lustre, displayed
a lower cv, displayed quality fibre into lower legs, belly and brisket, sheared
at least 12 lbs (5 kg), and had great presence. And we were looking for proof
that the stud did pass these attributes on to its progeny. Without saying, we
wanted one or two of the venerable ancestor lines of the US herd in the
background. And if possible we wanted a stud located in the North East, or
close, as transport to (say) Oregon is an expensive task.
stud row, we saw a number of males, and although the top studs were not present
at the show, we were able to talk to their owners. It absolutely amazed
me that few knew the microns, shearweights, or progeny information of their
studs (or were willing to divulge them!). They showed great photos and talked
of their show results, but had little solid measurable data, especially on the
more esoteric areas of character and lustre.
farm is an exception - it keeps all of the fleeces from all of their studs from
each year’s successive shearing, to show clients. They have over 500 fleeces
now the client has a shortlist of stud males that could do the job. As he is
going to spend over US$12,000 on stud fees and transport, he believes it is
worth spending a few hundred dollars visiting the farms, viewing the studs,
seeing their fleece and progeny. We will
select one (or maybe two) and move his females to the stud for mating.
Hopefully (the vagaries of genetic improvement notwithstanding), the progeny
will be improved in the areas desired.
does recognise, however that it can not all be done in one generation,
and the same evaluation and selection process will need to take place on the
offspring to move them forward. At that time there may be different attributes
emphasised for improvement, and hence a different stud selection.
“Stud” – a
male alpaca that has impregnated a female and usually offered for outside stud
a US term similar to stud, but more for an alpaca based in the home herd, and
not offered for extensive outside stud matings.
– a male with viable offspring on the ground.