Develop an Alpaca Breeding Program
By: Mike Safley
Pure blood animal breeders around the world crave the ability to produce the best of their breed. They want their animals to reach the pinnacle of their potential. That is what animal breeding is all about: A self dynamic dream. When an alpaca breeder sets his goals they generally include excellence. No one says, “I want to mate my female to a stud who will produce an average alpaca, not a great one.” The difference between producing ideal animals and mediocre ones is basically a little knowledge and a sound plan or breeding program.
My dad used to tell me that “an alpaca herd was like a baseball team” and if we wanted to field a winning team we would need “someone to hit some home runs.” Your herdsire has to be the big hitter. The males you choose as sires will contribute 50% of all the genes in your cria. If you have ten females in your herd any one of them will contribute only 10% of the genes to your annual crop of cria.
I cannot emphasis enough the importance of selecting for stud males that have a proven record of producing high quality cria. By using a potent and proven stud you also have the advantage of creating a more marketable pedigree for your cria. Strictly speaking prepotency is the superior power that one parent has over the other in determining the character of the offspring.
The only way to determine the potency of a male is to inspect its progeny. If the male’s offspring are uniformly superior then the male is prepotent. For a thorough discussion of progeny testing please read Alpacas: Synthesis of a Miracle and Ideal Alpaca: From Myth to Reality.
Alpaca breeders often look to acquire “bloodlines” by purchasing animals sired by a wide variety of males. I believe they would make more progress if they concentrated on purchasing animals sired by a few prepotent males. By narrowing their selection they would insure that their herd would be populated by the dominant genes that were being passed on by superior males. The process of creating superior animals involves concentrating the herd’s gene pool so that it includes a maximum number of elite genes and eliminates the inferior genes from the mix. This should be every alpaca breeder’s goal.
Alpaca breeders can not change Mendel’s laws, alter the number of genes which make an alpaca, or affect their interrelationship. They can not change the expression of dominance or the negative effects of some recessive genes. That leaves only two ways for alpaca breeders to control the heredity of their animals. First, they select the alpacas which make up their herd. Second, they decide which alpaca will mate with each of the alpacas in the herd, and how many offspring each parent will have.
The second group of decisions they make – selecting whom to breed to whom and how often – is every bit as important as the breeder’s initial selection decision. A breeding program integrates your selection system – how you choose the traits to breed for, and how you choose the animals you will breed: by pedigree, phenotype, or progeny testing – and your mating system – choosing which animals to mate to which. Today, most breeders practice some form of selection when they purchase and breed their alpacas. However, many of them substitute their concept of selection for their breeding program. But a breeding program must be a combination of both careful selection and a well-chosen mating system.
CREATING A BREEDING PROGRAM
To understand the process of creating a breeding program, study the following steps:
- There must be a goal to drive the changes in the animals being bred. The establishment of a goal for your endeavor is critical. I farm alpacas with the expectation of a profit. My goal is to produce animals that I can sell at a profit on an annual basis. Profit can be viewed in a number of ways: per female, per labor unit, per acre, or as a percentage of capital invested.
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