Breeding and farming alpacas in the UK
Bob Rawlins of Wellground Alpaca Stud presents a guide to selecting a foundation herd of alpacas.
The alpaca industry in the UK is growing and changing rapidly. From humble beginnings, where often alpacas were bought as leisure animals and pets, the UK Alpaca Industry has flourished into one of today’s success stories in agriculture.
The alpacas imported into the UK in the early days were different to those introduced over the last few years. The original imports were mainly Chilean; they lacked the quality of today’s pedigree stock. Without a properly managed breeding programme in some areas of South America, inbreeding has become a regular problem.
The quality of the alpaca currently farmed in the UK has improved immeasurably over the past 10 years - within an alpaca’s single generation lifespan. Improvement has been accomplished far faster than could be done by utilizing an on-farm breeding programme. Improvement has been achieved by replacing current stock with better breeding through importing alpacas from countries like Australia the United States and New Zealand. An advance in breeding standards has already been made in these countries, some of which are a decade ahead of us in the U.K. This rapid improvement of alpaca stock and breeding is putting the UK Alpaca Industry on a par with the World leaders. So it follows that the successful selection of alpacas for a foundation herd is now more important than ever.
When selecting alpacas as part of any quality breeding herd, the basics requirements are: Good health, good reproductive capability, no genetic faults, and the right type and colour to fit your own breeding goals and business plan.
Successful alpaca breeders look at the following issues in order of importance when selecting their alpaca bloodlines. Try the 4 Ps of alpaca selection to help ensure you choose wisely.
1 – Progeny: genetic quality (genotype) is best judged by looking at the alpaca’s offspring — not just one or two, all of them. ‘Genotype’ is best described as the study of what an alpaca regularly produces in the way of progeny, rather than how the alpaca looks or presents itself. Consistently good progeny equates to genetic strength. Progeny can be measured by visual inspection or judged in the show ring. Looking at progeny is an excellent way of assessing underlying genotype.
2 – Pedigree: younger animals, or newer studs, have no progeny. In this case the pedigree of the alpaca (available with British Alpaca Society registered stock) assists judgement. Look for parents with good progeny records, siblings with show winning records, herd sires used by respected breeders. These are indications that the offspring will carry the quality traits of the parent. Pedigree is a reasonable way of assessing genotype.
Pedigree is harder for the newcomer, because it assumes prior knowledge of world renowned bloodlines. This means research. Naming a stud Captain Fantastic doesn’t mean it’s a fantastic animal. South American countries have not yet developed registries. Imports therefore have no pedigree and usually no progeny data. This makes it very difficult for anyone to select quality breeding stock, so caution should be advised.
3 – Phenotype: this is best described as how an alpaca ‘looks’. Phenotype is important, you have to live with your choice. You have to like the way an alpaca looks in your paddock. When progeny and pedigree data aren’t available, phenotype is all there is to assess an animal. Phenotype can be unreliable for identifying an underlying genotype. However, you can gain some confidence by selecting alpacas from one of the UK’s more successful and respected breeders.
4 – Price: clearly, the price of the alpaca has to fit the depth of your pocket. Generally, higher quality animals carry higher prices, but beware the reverse price ‘snob’ syndrome. While a cheap price generally means lower quality, a higher price doesn’t of itself guarantee better quality.
When looking to select a foundation herd of high quality alpaca, the two most important factors have to be progeny and pedigree. If the ultimate test of progeny cannot be viewed, as a minimum standard, the animal must be registered with a respectable herd book – preferably, with the British Alpaca Society. The Pedigree Certificate must be able to show the lineage of the alpaca. The breed certificate should show signs of breeding improvement, listing respected bloodlines within the pedigree.
When alpacas were first imported to the UK from South America, we were forced into accepting a lower standard, where no pedigree records were available. This isn’t the case today – quality alpacas are available in the UK, and the world’s highest standards of breeding are appearing on our shores, with highly respected and well known bloodlines. Use the four Ps to help in quality alpaca selection.
This article is from the August 2006 issue of Country Smallholding magazine.
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