A problem with males in many species, especially alpacas, is that all they want to do is breed. Sadly, that doesn’t mean they’re good at it or have any worthy contributions to make to the gene pool. But that doesn’t stop them from trying.
Since discerning breeders who aim to produce show-quality offspring breed to only the top five percent of males, their non-breeding counterparts are left to a grim life of ual frustration. These boys troll the pasture fences, examining what’s on the other side. They have total disregard for your breeding objectives and could care less whether they hump their sisters and cousins. They also tend to be high strung and enjoy picking fights with everyone around them.
Every farm has its own methods for determining breeding criteria, but at Sirius Alpacas, most boys are gelded at about 18 months of age or sold or donated as pets to other farms with different objectives. Breeding boys have a heavy load of expectations, and not many pass the test. Solid conformation is the basic building block. No matter how good a boy’s fleece is, his conformation structure has to be on the money.
Here are the traits we look for in a herdsire:
The proportion of the neck, topline and legs must be balanced. The neck length should be about 2/3 the length of the back from the withers to the base of the tail (croup). Legs must be straight with the rear legs having a slight Z curve. (Some people call this an “S” curve. Same difference.) A slight turn-out of the front legs isn’t a big deal, but we only breed to this if the rest of his conformation is perfect and he has the fleece qualities that are most complimentary to the dam. Front legs that turn in (knock knees), however, are more serious. Ideally, the legs should not be too close together as this could indicate a narrow chest cavity.
Even bite, closed palate. We often trim teeth when we shear, depending on the tooth length and evenness. Alpacas do not have top teeth. The bottom teeth should meet the upper dental pad, not exceed it.
No wry face, even slight. Wry face (choanal atresia) is a condition where the upper jaw twists to a side. Often wry face, a congenital defect, makes breathing difficult. Alpacas cannot breathe through their mouths for extended periods. Their air passages through their noses must be unobstructed. Wry face often indicates a blockage in the air passages.
Straight, spear-shaped ears without a banana curve.
Straight tail (no kinks).
Two even testicles. Be sure to check under the hood if you’re buying a boy.
Big, dark eyes. Blue eyes, especially in white animals, can indicate deafness. We do not breed blue-eyed males.
Head shape. We prefer a typey head style as opposed to a long Roman nose, which is more llama like. There is a trend now among many breeders to be head hunters and refuse to breed to a long nose. Smaller faces with a boxy look carry a cuter appearance and tend to win more in show rings than their counterparts with longer noses.
Gums and toenail color. If your breeding programs includes producing offspring of darker colors including greys, pay attention to the color of the gums and nails. Dark pigments here usually indicate a higher load of alleles and a greater opportunity to throw color, especially when bred to color. Sirius Alpacas breeds for crimp and fineness in greys, therefore, we look at the ARI’s record of the color of the sire’s other offspring as well as the pigment of the gums and nails. By the way, pink gums are healthy. Pale gums may indicate the presence of an infection or parasite.
Gait. Alpacas should move both right legs and left legs at the same time. This is a striding gait exhibited by camelids.
Fleece: The best in brightness, fineness, crimp, color and density we can find. (Because fleece is so important, we have an upcoming post devoted exclusively to fleece characteristics.)
We look at conformation as the building block of our breeding program. Yes, the end product is fleece, but we do not want to pass along physical conformation traits that are not beneficial to the species. For instance, an animal with even a slight case of wry face or narrow legs that has incredible fiber has a high potential to pass on these flawed heritable characteristics. If these animals cannot live comfortable lives, what sense does it make to breed them? In short, any male with a conformation strike against it is usually destined to become a gelding.
Stay tuned for a future post: Passing the Fleece Test