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Monday, January 14, 2013

Cooling Down Heats Things Up!


For three months, it’s been too hot for alpacas to want to have a baby (cria) or even to breed. When cooler weather arrives, they become much more interested in being active, including breeding!
Since cooler weather is the best time for birthing, and alpaca pregnancies conveniently last a year, we will soon be starting to have our fall crop of cria, a very cute time! Alpacas mom’s (dams) are re-bred within a month of delivery so we will also soon be starting the breeding season. We have to make decisions about which male (sire) we should use for a particular dam including outside sires whose genetics we may want to bring into our herd.
We are always trying to “breed up”. We want breedings that will increase the fleece amount and quality. Sometimes that decision is based on past breedings; if the last one worked our really well, it may be one we want to repeat. Some of our best sires are co-owned with other farms so we have to be sure our best sires will be available on our farm when we need them. Fortunately our partners live up north, and don’t breed their herd in the winter, so they are happy to send the sire here. There are certain breedings that are best avoided. For example, twenty five percent of breedings between a black alpaca with a white spot and a grey alpaca result in a blue-eyed white offspring that is deaf. The fleece may be fine in the offspring, but the genetic problems take the cria out of the future breeding program. Breeding choices have too often been a “best guess” . Babies are always cute, so you may not know for a couple of years how good of a choice you made back then.
Hooray for science! The Alpaca Registry is developing a catalogue of EPD’s, or Expected Progeny Differences. Basically, it is a statistical index created by the Registry that takes into account the good and the no-so-good characteristics that a particular sire or dam has a proven to “throw” into a breeding, and how likely that will occur in future offspring. So, instead of making our best guess, we have data to help us make a rational decision. The EPD’s are still being developed but our ranch has been an active early participant in the program, and the results have been a show-winning upgrade in the cria. So, now they are even cuter, even longer!