I have been spending all of my 'blog-related time and effort working on Breed Standards Part III. That is the most important one by far, because it is our breed standard for Howling Hill Farm. Thus, it's taking awhile.
In the meantime, here's a picture of an appaloosa alpaca starting to yawn. It's kind of a spooky picture, which fits, because today is Halloween. Also, there are some cute geese.
This is a little bit of a follow-up to a post I wrote (coincidentally, almost exactly a year ago now) on Huacaya alpaca Breed Standards. The original post was posted on a popular Facebook alpaca forum, and it generated quite a bit of controversy (as intended).
A bit more recently, I posted this tentative outline of a commercial production-based Huacaya alpaca breed standard on the same forum. It, too, generated quite a bit of interest, though the response was surprisingly positive. Interestingly, the thing that the most people disagreed with was the line, "The only permissible color is white." I stand by that statement. Introducing color only muddies the water when to majority of production-based alpaca breeders wish to focus on white, and it's hard enough to breed for pure white as it is.
Recently, I have been thinking about our farm breed standard, and how I keep meaning to write it out to post on this website. I haven't gotten around to it yet, but it reminded me that I never did post that production-based standard on this 'blog.
In case the above paragraphs don't already make it obvious, I want to emphasize again that this is not the standard that we breed for at Howling Hill Farm. The production standard posted below is intended to maximize yield of white fleece for commercial purposes, with a minimum of grower input. Period. That's all. No aesthetic considerations are given, either to the animal or the fleece produced.
I also wish to note that this standard is incomplete (note the question-marks). It was intended as a thought experiment, originally for myself. I don't normally publish my writing with question-marks intact, but in this case, I felt it was time to pass the thought experiment on to others.
So, without further ado: A prototypical commercial production-based Huacaya alpaca standard, for your viewing pleasure..
American Production Alpaca
Overall: The American Production Alpaca is a hearty, mid to large framed animal that has been selected for the primary purpose of intensive fiber production, with attention paid to the utility of sunset and cull animals. It is not a dual-purpose animal per se, given that the alpaca species is a poor candidate for a primary meat animal due to its slow growth and long reproductive interval. However, the Production Alpaca does have a relatively fast growth rate, large frame size and good carcass yield for the species. It may or may not be an aesthetically attractive animal, having been developed for production rather than the show ring, but its disposition is quiet and easy to work with.
Disqualifying faults: Aggressive, difficult demeanor; slow growth rate (<80 lb at one year of age); small frame score (<150 lb at maturity).
Head: The head of the Production Alpaca should be balanced and functional. Most critical is that the bite is level and that the angulation of the incisors is such that they wear down readily with no need for human intervention to correct overgrowth.
The Production Alpaca has a clean face, free from wool obstruction of the eyes. The eyes must be large, bright, and clean.
Major faults: Wool blindness, minor overbite, minor underbite, or high-maintenance dental angulation.
Disqualifying faults: Major under or overbite; wryface; entropion; extropion.
Body: The body is balanced, with a level topline. The tailset may be high or low. The animal should have a modest to excellent spring of rib, and the chest should be moderate to substantial in width. The hips should be wide, to facilitate easy, unassisted birthing of cria, and to accommodate ample musculature.
The shoulder, loin, and rear musculature is ample and well-developed.
Minor faults: Narrow chest.
Major faults: Narrow hips; poor muscling; unbalanced proportions; lordosis (swayback); kyphosis (roached back).
Legs: The forelimbs and hindlimbs should be straight when viewed from directly in front of or directly behind the animal. Very slight toe-out is permissible. The substance of bone is modest; the animal must possesses sufficient substance of bone to carry its weight easily and without risk of premature lameness, but need not be greater than is necessary to facilitate soundness.
The legs should be free and clear of wrinkles. Fiber below the knee is neither encouraged nor penalized.
Major faults: Carpus valgus (knock-knees); carpus varus (bowlegs); cowhocks; sickle hocks; post legged rear conformation; dropped pasterns; extremely poor substance of bone (“pencil legs”).
Reproductive: The Production Alpaca must breed, conceive and birth easily, ideally without human intervention. The majority of breeding will likely be herd/pasture breeding. Males should possess two large, (>xxx” diameter and xxx” height), firm testicles of even size and consistency. Females should possess an adequately sized vulva that is not tipped, and should develop a large udder with ample milk once a cria has been delivered.
Because of the intensive production nature of the breed, all reproductive faults are considered disqualifying. Veterinary intervention may be sought to ascertain the cause of reproductive difficulty and whether it is likely to be heritable; however, animals that require any sort of human intervention to achieve reproduction should not be considered for a serious production breeding program. The only exception to this may be non-heritable conditions such as dystocia due to malpresentation.
Because the alpaca has a significantly lower reproductive rate than other livestock species, these traits are of paramount importance.
Males – Testicles <(xxx), uneven, or cryptorchid; poor libido; inability to sire offspring by 30 months of age.
Females – Small, tipped, or otherwise abnormal vulva; inability to conceive after 60 days' exposure to a proven fertile male at 24 months of age; inadequate milk production to nourish cria; poor mothering skills.
Fiber: All grades of alpaca fiber are useful, and thus, the Production Alpaca is not limited to a set grade or range of grades. However, it is well acknowledged that the more consistent the fiber, the more valuable and easily processed it is, and thus, an animal whose fiber is highly inconsistent in micron, length, or crimp style (?????) should be culled from production. As fiber production is the major purpose of the Production Alpaca, a high degree of fiber density (high number of wool follicles), yielding a larger fiber crop per year, is a critical aspect of selection. So, too, is a long staple length, indicating a fast rate of regrowth; although, until an alpaca is developed which produces adequate fiber to justify twice per year shearing, a maximum staple length of 6” at one year regrowth must be selected for by the average breeder, lest the crop yield be too long to be easily processed.
The crimp structure of the Production Alpaca is relatively unimportant, so long as the fiber does posses some degree of curvature to add memory and bounce to the resultant fabric products. However, all subtypes of crimp, ranging from bold and deep, high-frequency, to disorganized, are permitted.
The only permissible color is white.
Major faults: Standard Deviation of fiber >4 microns; primary fibers that visibly extend beyond the blanket, but are extremely close in micron to the secondary fibers; no defined crimp structure; blanket weight <3 lb at 2nd shearing; staple length <4” at one-year regrowth shearing; two or fewer colored spots that are <2” in diameter.
Disqualifying faults: Standard Deviation of fiber >5 microns; primary fibers that that are straight and /or stronger in micron than the secondary fibers; blanket weight <4 lb; staple length <3” at one-year regrowth shearing; three or more colored spots that are <4” in diameter, or any colored spot that is >4” in diameter; any color other than white.
So, I am pretty into photography, at this point. That isn't to say that I'm any good at it, or that I've made any great effort to study the technicalities, simply that I enjoy it, and find it to be one of my favorite aspects of having the farm. If we had a working dairy farm, or a production pork operation, I would have little cause to photograph things, but our main focus is on producing seedstock (breeding stock), so I get to photograph things a lot. The main thing that I photograph is alpacas.
I'm no great expert at alpaca photography, but there are a few things that I have learned. One is that the most gorgeous animal can be made to look like a sack of crap with bad photography. It's a lot easier to take a bad photograph than it is to take a good one. A photograph where the animal's butt is to the camera; where it's making a dumb face; or where it's slouching like the hunchback of Notre Dam is probably going to be a bad photograph, at least as far as promoting your animals is concerned. However, all alpaca breeders know that alpacas do not always strut around the pasture with their ears facing forward, posing like they were in the show ring. (Some do – we could name a few names – and we love those animals – but they sure don't all do that!) So, sometimes it takes some effort to get them to stand up and pose for the camera.
The ideal is when something happens to make the animals do this on their own. For example, we recently brought home a kitten to help control rodents when he is older. (Yes, this is controversial, but that's a topic for another post.) The kitten was a source of great fascination for the alpacas, and resulted in a whole lot of awesome posing 'paca pics that would not have been attainable otherwise. Harmony, pictured here, is a master at putting his ears back the moment he sees the camera. When the kitten came to explore their paddock, I was able to get a whole bunch of photos of Harmony with his ears forward for once. (Here's one of them.)
My Dad's dog, pig noises, and boys tussling in the next paddock over also all present good opportunities for nice alpaca poses.
Sometimes, though, the opportunities just do not present themselves, and you have to make them. I have tried squeaky toys, and that sometimes works, but usually not for very long. Kubota, our appaloosa junior herdsire, is one of those boys who is awesome at not putting his ears up for the camera. I have tried taking my hat off and waving it around, and sometimes that works, but not today. So, in a moment of inspiration, I decided to put the hat in an odd place: on top of white junior herdsire Dually Noted. I expected that DN would get confused and shake the hat off, thus catching 'Bota's attention, but he did not. In fact, he did not seem to care about the hat at all.
Kubota found the hat on his butt to be utterly fascinating, and I was able to get my posed shot.
After about five minutes, DN decided to roll in the dirt, and the hat came off. So, I decided to see if he would let me put it on his head this time.
This guy. (Did I mention that temperament is a major component of our breeding program?)
It almost looks Photoshopped, but it isn't. Here's the same shot from an ever so slightly different angle.
Next stop: Alpacas with sunglasses.
The usual way to get posed alpaca pictures is, of course, is to put the alpaca on a halter, but where's the fun in that?
PS. If you are wondering why there are no pictures of the kitten, it's because he is so darn affectionate that he does not leave my side, making him very difficult to photograph. I'll get pictures of him one of these days!
K writes this stuff, for some reason that has yet to become apparent.