I went to visit some alpaca boys on Sunday. They are owned by a gentleman who is a friend of my friend Deb Perry, who owns Glacier Rock Alpacas, and who also produced these boys.
The boys, named Future Shock and Roll Over Beethoven (AKA Rollie), are a little more than first cousins. Their sires are full brothers, and the dam of one boy is the grand-dam of the other -- one of those relationships that really has no corollary in human relatives.
Notice the similarity? Pretty striking, no? Here's another picture of them.
And my personal favorite photo (that's a Trakehner gelding in the background, a very impressive, sweet boy who is also bred in the purple).
So, they kind of look like cookie-cutters, right?
Granted, there are differences; easily discernible if you know what you're looking at. Future Shock has a wider, deeper, and heavier build, and a bit more fiber coverage. Rollie is a little bit slighter. In terms of fiber, Rollie appears to be denser (though density is notoriously tough to judge by feel alone), and has a much more defined crimp. Future Shock is brighter, and feels much softer.
Still -- they look a heck of a lot alike.
You might wonder if it's because they are related, and the answer is, yes ... Partially. They are related, so of course, that has an awful lot to do with it.
However, it's the fact that they are related, and are the product of two very focused breeding programs, that they look so darn similar.
For contrast, here are photos of two full brothers who have lived here. The first boy is still here, though he's likely to remain a pet. His name is Nitro. He's not half bad looking, and his fiber isn't half bad, either.
Now, here is Nitro's full brother, Fascination. Fascination has been sold as a pet.
He is not the worst alpaca ever born by a far cry -- and I do believe that those terrible legs were secondary to rickets, and not genetic -- but still, he's a far cry from greatness, or even from his full brother.
Here's a picture of them together.
In addition to having a fairly coarse head, Fascination's fiber was much coarser, and the crimp much less defined, than Nitro's. Granted, he is true black, and Nitro is bay -- but still. The difference was pretty dramatic.
That's due to genetic variability, and it has carried over in Nitro's offspring. His daughters are not bad animals, but they are pretty far from being carbon copies of him, and in some ways, I believe that he actually "downgraded" their dam in terms of quality. I don't have any great pictures to demonstrate it, but I believe that the heads of Nitro's daughters are more snipey (longer muzzle) than their dam, and I also believe that their fiber is less uniform. That's pretty surprising, given Nitro's awesome head and his lovely fleece. Granted, some lines just don't cross well, but it's still a bit of a blow when the daughters fail to even reach the quality of the dams.
All animal breeding is a dice roll, you can hedge your bets by using a bloodline that has proven its prepotency. Prepotency is the ability of an animal to confer his or her own positive traits to his or her offspring. Like so:
This is a picture of the sires who produced Rollie and Future Shock, posing with their sire (Rollie and Future Shock's grandsire). From left to right: Caligula's Casanova (the grandsire), Hidden Hill Peruvian Dually (Future Shock's Sire), and Hidden Hill Peruvian Pundit (Rollie's sire). This photograph is copyright to Jennifer Clark, and provided courtesy of Carol Karsten, who produced Dually and Pundit.
There's some similarity there.
Here is a daughter of Pundit, owned by Howling Hill Farm, and produced by Glacier Rock Alpacas.
Now, here's a Dually daughter, produced by Hidden Hill Farm.
... And a Dually daughter, produced by Karrie Myer of Abenaqui Alpacas:
.. Aaaand a Dually son, produced by Hidden Hill:
There's a pattern there, and I haven't even posted pictures of their fleece.
The get of Caligula's Casanova were awesome; even more awesome was the cross of Casanova (AKA Caz) and Chilam, the dam of Dually and Pundit -- and #3 in the train of excellence, a boy named Hidden Hill Peruvian Incomparable (AKA Inco), co-owned by Hidden Hill Farm and Havenfield Farm. Note the similarity of Inco, pictured below, with his "nephew," Dually Noted, pictured above. (Photo courtesy Carol Karsten.)
Long story made short: All of these alpacas look the same.
There are two things going on here. One, there is genetic prepotency. Caligula's Casanova reliably conferred many traits to his offspring. When bred to an ideal female -- Chilam -- many of these traits were "locked in" to the bloodline, and these sons -- Dually, Pundit, and, we can only assume, the as-yet-unproven Inco -- are just as prepotent as their sire, Caz, for many traits, and even moreso for others.
Then, there is another thing going on, and that brings us back to the original point of the post. That thing is a breeding program. See, in a really great breeding program, even animals that aren't related look the same, because the breeder (human) knows what she wants to select for.
Here is a maternal half-brother of Future Shock, Glacier Rock's Radar (L), pictured next to a maternal half-brother of Rollie, Glacier Rock's Maestro (R). Maestro is Radar's "uncle," but their sires are, in this case, totally unrelated, both to each other and to Dually or Pundit.
They aren't exactly "clones," but they're very similar, and it isn't by accident.
Combining the prepotency of their dams with the proven prepotency of their sires produced the next generation: our boys at the top of the post.
It may not work every time, but using careful selection, pedigree analysis, and a healthy dose of artistic flair, you can start to see if work more often than not. That is what a breeding program is all about.
K writes this stuff, for some reason that has yet to become apparent.