Five Years On

15th Oct, 2015

Five Years down the road, West Wight Alpacas & Suri Stud

Well we have finished our fifth Cria season and what have we learned? Firstly its not easy, its not predictable and money does not always buy you success (or love), but it can help. When we first discussed alpacas towards the end of 2010 little did I know where we would be today. We started with eleven Huacayas in early 2011, we now have just three of those female Huacayas left which are now sold and going next weekend and just one token male. We do however have somewhere north of seventy Suris, it got to over eighty at one point this summer however we have sold a few with a few more going in the next six months. Our core female Suri breeding herd now numbers 48 although we intend to reduce that a bit. We also have ten llamas and various other livestock animals. Was this intended? No but the Suri alpaca has sucked us in.

I thought I would write this to talk about our breeding experiences to date and to pass on some very limited knowledge that I have gained. I do not profess to be a genetics expert but I have read a lot of scientific papers since getting involved with alpacas and done a huge amount of other research. The livestock breeders amongst you will know that breeding livestock for improvement is never a simple progression but this is made even more complicated taking in to account the history of the alpaca and the frequency, which it has been crossbred with the Llama since the Spanish conquest of South America. Being a more advanced animal in antiquity and trying to retrieve that makes it in my view both more interesting and more difficult to get the continuous progression and advancement we all look for over the generations.

Our foundation animals were a very mixed bag; we got some absolute gems and plenty of what might be described as three legged donkeys. We still retain the gems and they are still producing for us now and most of those original three legged donkeys have gradually been found pet homes. We made some expensive mistakes but that's something I suspect most of us have to go through. While the suri has varying fleece styles that all have equal amounts of merit in terms of quality we all have our favourites. Our personal favourites tend to come from the Accoyo Bulleyman line and also Macgyver from the States. We were so impressed with offspring from the two original Macgyver grandsons in the UK that we decided to go and look for our own Macgyver Sons in 2011 which we did with Chris & Vicki Agar from Springfarm. Our two Macgyver sons arrived here in February 2013 along with four other males that were all relatives of the PP Accoyo import in to the States in 1992. I have written before concerning the eight males from Accoyo which in my mind were the most significant and important Suri males ever to come out of Peru and where the majority of the worlds best Suris have since come from.

Well they have been here now for two Cria seasons, we have already had a lot of success in the show ring and we have only just started to backcross these boys first offspring and we have quite a few breeding's this year to look forward to in 2016. I am now going to make some breeding observations and try and pass on some of our experience to date. Please don't take this as expert opinion it is just observations from a newbie.

Our US stud males work well with particular lines of our females and not all of them. The more line bred of our two Macgyver sons, Aslan seems to have a really good strike rate for very good quality Cria as long as you use the right female lines. These lines for us are our Accoyo Bulleyman daughters and Pucarra Sur-real Rapper daughters. He is almost guaranteed with those lines to produce a big improvement. Aslan is a strong line breed with quality on both sides of his pedigree including Helios (Macgyvers brother) on his dam Sonatas side. Silver Rider our grey Macgyver son is more random although if you looked at his pedigree he is Macgyver on one side and a random Peruvian US import on the other so in my mind you would expect his strike rate to be more random. The other boys have only just come in to play and Accoyo Amadeus one of our white males has already produced champions for us with a very limited number of Cria. Chris and Vicki's wholly owned boy Masseratis Peruvian Alfonzo, a Torbio grandson, has done well both in halter and fleece shows particularly the H of E recently where he took supreme in whites and champion fawn Suri. It's a good job he is producing with a name like that!

So to summarise what I have learned.

  • The female is as important as the male. While you might get an improvement with a poor female it is unlikely to be big enough to justify the cost of an expensive breeding. Try and spend wisely in the first place and buy quality females that you hope will work with the males you intend to use. Buy with your head and not your heart.
  • Do not waste your money on expensive stud services until you have seen the potential sires progeny and know what their strike rate is, do your homework, be as sure as you can that the male will work with the female that you intend to use him on.
  • Just because a male looks pretty in the show ring or they have some ribbons they may not be able to pass those qualities on looking at him on one day is a snapshot and does not tell you all about him. Remember again how important the female is.
  • Remember it does not always happen in one hit, it might take one generation to put fineness in and the next to put in density and yet another to put the lustre in etc
  • Line breeding works, you really need to get your head out of the human connotations and look at it. It's the best way to fix positive traits and breed out negative. If you are not prepared to look at line breeding then others around you are going to progress quicker.
  • I have certain lines of animals that seem un-improvable no matter what male you use.
  • EPD's are the current buzzword and I am absolutely sure this is the way to go however its going to take time in the UK to make this work and get the necessary data. So for the minute make your breeding selections based on a scientific approach (not heart) and ensure that you look at the Cria from any male that you are thinking of using, ask to look at as many Cria as possible, not just the winners!
  • You don't always get what you want, particularly when it comes to colour although with the alpaca being what it is you can sometimes get a very lucky result such as our multi Champion grey male Vivaldi out of a white and fawn breeding. (Accoyo Amadeus)
  • Alpacas can be random and what works this year might not work next although if you have a stunning result you would be mad not to repeat the breeding. Remember because of the above you should try and remove as many of the variables as possible by doing your homework.
  • Genetics is hugely complicated, they have now mapped the alpaca genome but it will be a while before it helps us much if at all. In simple terms we know colour is controlled by positive and recessive genes with various modifiers and roaning genes thrown in to the mix as well. You can go some way to working out your animal's likely colour dominant or colour recessive traits when he or she has bred some cria. I believe we should be thinking that fleece traits are controlled in a similar way which is why we can sometimes get a lucky result (double recessive) that does not seem repeatable or you can have an animal which always seems to pass on his positive traits (double positive) and those that are a mixture of positive and recessive which sometimes pass on their good traits and sometimes not. A male with double positives for density, fineness and lustre is the holy grail we should all be striving for.
  • People talk to me about moving on to the next generation but I am not certain you should stop breeding a high quality producing female until you are sure that you have got everything you can from her and that might take several years and generations. Would you move on your top producer male until you were sure you had something better and as consistent? I don't think so. We have a few females on the farm which will not be going anywhere soon.
  • Don't get hung up on a certain fleece style as I do otherwise this can reflect on how you grade your own animals. I have in the past dismissed animals that have subsequently taken championships at big shows because I was not keen on their style, how daft am I, don't get caught in the same trap.
  • Remember also this first and foremost is a fleece animal and any breeding decisions we make should be with the intention of making a fleece improvement.
  • To date our US males have not been open for outside services as we took the calculated decision to prove them first. We have done a limited number of outside breedings in 2015 although we would never let anyone use one of our males unless we were as certain as we could be that it would bring an improvement. We would rather sell you a champion producer female pregnant to a male that we know works with her than a breeding that might not give you what you want.

    Cria_Breeding_News

    Our first Cria of the year

    29th May, 2015

    So today has been an exciting day. The vet had to come out as Chicory had started to unpack and just stopped. So after 2 hours we decided we had to get the vet in. After the vet examined Chicory it was decided that she needed help. So after some manipulation from the vet she managed to deliver. Sometimes they do need some help and Chicory was very uncomfortable but very happy once cria was born. We have a little boy called Winston weighing in at 7.9 kg.