Yesterday was both my birthday, and among the most gloriously unseasonable days on record. (I believe that the day before, which was Christmas, actually broke said record, as it was right around 60 degrees in the middle of the day.) I chose to spend part of it taking pictures of alpacas. Yesterday's alpaca photo session featured a special guest star, the Squeaky Sheep dog toy. (Note that this is not, in fact, a toy for my dogs. Were my dogs to get hold of this toy, it would be destroyed in a matter of seconds. I am not positive why it is in my house; it's entirely possible that I bought it for the sole purpose of making a funny noise to get the alpacas to put their ears up.)
These were my three favorite photos. For some reason, they all remind me of 1960s album covers. (The "photograph of the band doing something unrelated to music" kind, not the psychedelic kind.)
This lineup was totally unplanned. I still can't get over the fact that it came out the way it did.
This is a shot I've been trying to get for months. Alpacas do not like to line up nicely.
These two guys have rapidly become best buddies, and it is so totally appropriate, because they are the two males who will likely wind up being my two primary cornerstone herdsires when they grow up. Here, they are studying the Squeaky Sheep together (Squeaky Sheep just out of frame).
This Christmas was also the Christmas of the Quadcopter (I am listening to the quad drone as I type this). Coming soon: Quadcopter shots of alpacas!
(EDIT: I had to ... I just had to ...)
My 'blog posts have fallen a bit out of joint with my Facebook posts lately. Our latest fleece shots were posted on Facebook on the same day as the 'blog post about them. Then, someone asked to see the rest of Caine, and a discussion ensued as to whether or not Caine qualifies as a harlequin.
A website dedicated to explaining and exploring the harlequin appaloosa gene in alpacas is one of my many back-burner projects, so for now, let's go through a review of what it means to be a harlequin alpaca.
First, the pictures of Caine. This is the first picture that I posted, and people were skeptical, understandably. He is not spotted, not even on his face.
Here is his half-brother, Renegade, who is by the same (harlequin) sire. Everyone agreed readily that this one is definitely a harlequin appaloosa.
... Caine, however, is not immediately recognizable as a harlequin, even amongst affectionados of harlequin alpacas. So, I am often asked, "What makes him a harlequin?" To which I invariably respond that I define harlequin as a phenotype (appearance) that derives specifically from the action of a certain gene. Harlequin, to me, is more about genetics than coloring, though the coloring is, obviously, the end-goal.
The logical next question, which I have not yet been asked, is: "What makes you so sure?"
... In some cases, I'm not. If I'm not, I don't call it a harlequin. In the case of the fawn "possible harlequin" crias we had born this year, neither of them have yet changed color or developed spots, so I have to assume that they are, genetically, just regular old fawns.
In a case line Caine's, I'm pretty danged sure. He started life looking like this (photo by Spring Grove Alpaca Ranch):
... And after his first shearing, he looked like this:
... He totally and completely changed color.
That sort of dramatic color change is so indicative of the harlequin gene that, even if he didn't have a harlequin sire, I would have to believe that one of his parents was a carrier of that gene somehow. Many alpacas change color after their cria shearing, but a dramatic change from fawn to dark grey pretty much tells you this is a harlequin.
As to why he doesn't have those tell-tale spots like his brother does, that I am less certain. One possibility is that Caine is a harlequin appaloosa without the appaloosa. We know that there are harlequin appaloosas without the harlequin -- appaloosa alpacas from known harlequin-producing lines, who are clearly expressing the "harlequin-associated" appaloosa gene, who never change color and become grey. Our boy Kubota is an example of one. His mother is a classic grey harlequin (and grey fleece champion at one of the Southwest USA's largest shows, by the by). Kubota is clearly an appaloosa, but he shows no indication of darkening to grey. Here he is at age two:
Here is another harlequin appaloosa without the harlequin. This one's name is Hali. Her sire is a (very funky) grey and fawn harlequin. She does not show any indication of darkening to grey.
Most harlequin appaloosas start out as fawn, beige, and/or brown appaloosas like Kubota and Hali, but many change and darken to grey. Here is Tia, daughter of our boy Mr. Butterscotch, as a weaning (Tia is not ours - photo by Linda Bat of Delphi Alpacas). She has dark brown spots on a fawn base coat.
After shearing, however, she looked like a totally different animal: a solid grey one. However, you can still see her spots. Tia is what I consider to be a classic harlequin appaloosa -- she has lots of spots, with a base coat that darkens to grey after their first shearing.
So, one option is that Caine is a harlequin appaloosa without the appaloosa.
Another option is that Caine is an example of variable expressivity. Most alpaca breeders know about the "white spot" gene, which can result in pinto coloring and which causes the blue-eyed white phenotype when bred with tuxedo grey. Most breeders also know that the white spotting gene can range anywhere from a classic pinto -- cow-spots and all -- all the way to one single tiny spot that is smaller than a dime. This is an example of variable expressivity. The loud pinto and the tiny white spot on a black alpaca both derive from the same gene; it's just that they are expressed differently in different animals. It's possible that Caine represents the harlequin appaloosa equivalent of a "white spot" alpaca with only a teeny, tiny spot. (He does, in fact, have a very small spot on his groin which is actually visible in the shorn photo.)
It is clear that the harlequin appaloosa gene can manifest in an extreme variety of ways. We have solid silver harlequins, classic harlequins, classic appaloosas, extreme (leopard) appaloosas, and all sorts in between. In all likelihood, some of these are distinct variants of the gene's expression that are caused by the effects of other color genes. Some are likely due to variable expressivity.
So, that is why I am confident that Caine is a harlequin. He also has an absolutely bitchin' fleece, and that is really what the gene is all about.
Well, um -- aside from the first-ever cria fleece shots, which I'm still refining in terms of technique (in fact, I'm not even sure why I'm linking to that 'blog post at all -- maybe it's best that's left forgotten).
Fiber photos are one of my favorite things about winter. (One of my only favorite things about winter -- this one has been beautifully mild, so far, and I am NOT complaining!) Some of these I like, and some don't do them justice. I was thrilled beyond thrilled to part some of these fleeces yesterday ... Like, wowie! This is what we want to see!
In the order that we took them:
Galotto's .38 Harmony (.38 Special x Rincon's Magnolia x Rincon Cloud). I LOVE THIS GUY'S FLEECE. He is fine, he is dense, he is uniform, he is high-frequency/high-amplitude, and oh my goodness, he is lavender. Yes. Love. (Much less thrilled with the photograph. He is so high-amplitude he is difficult to capture in a photo, though I am really not complaining about this.)
Black Hills Capone (Snowmass Silver Signature x Crescent Moon's Constance x Greener Pastures Copenhagen). This picture absolutely does not do him a lick of justice. Capone's fleece is about like Harmony's, only it's totally gunmetal silver. His density is absolutely fantastic.
Sunrose Paparazzi's Raisin' Caine (Hollywood's Hilltop's Paparazzi x Sunrose Raisin the Barr x Hollywood -- yes, this guy is double-bred Hollywood. Hollywood is not really a household name in Alpaca Land, but the names that ARE household are his grandsires -- Royal Fawn and Augusto.) I love the way this shot came out, but I was even more excited by the fleece itself! For me, this demonstrates two things: One, linebreeding is nothing to be afraid of. It can do happy things. Two, this is what the harlequin appaloosa gene is all about. This guy started life medium fawn.
Here is Luna Sky's Peruvian Medicine Man (MFI Peruvian Reality Check x Vaccoyo's Cheyenne x Victor's Vaccoyo). I like this photo, but the color was not adequately captured. He is a very vibrant shade of gold.
Now, here is a boy whose breeding career has started. This is PVA King of Diamonds (The Elite Maximus x Beauty Queen of PVA x Peruvian Ion) at age five. Not a half bad for a breeding stud's sixth fleece!
K writes this stuff, for some reason that has yet to become apparent.