Thursday, 25 October 2012

Some real drivel about breeding for colour

I have been thinking a lot over the past three days, I know, thinking, me, for three days, remarkable, didn't know I had it in me. I must have though, as I am now looking back at three days of serious thinking. I wasn't thinking the whole time you understand, there were large periods of 'situation normal' time whereby I was just sitting, standing or lying, a blank expression on my face with only the thoughts required to keep me from passing away subconsciously coursing through my shiny skull. When I wasn't in 'suspended animation' mode I was thinking about alpacas or more to the point breeding alpacas and the ultimate end goal for the Patou herd.
The reason for this intense period of thinking is because I have been updating the Patou website with a new page entitled 'Our herd'. So far I have only managed to get all the females up on the page and that took me, on and off, three days. It's time consuming work!

Some alpacas, can't remember their names.

One of the reasons that it took so long is that I was writing a short description of each female giving some details of parentage etc. Although I know the pedigree of most of them off pat I was checking with the BAS Registry so that I could eliminate any mistakes. The older I get the more mistakes I make and the more facts I forget, I am sure those of you the wrong side of 40 can sympathise with me.

Anyway, I digress (I do more and more of that these days too), so as I was checking my facts with the registry I was making a mental note of who the influential herdsires have been in the Mighty Patou herd over the past 6 years or so.

Other bloggers in the UK who write excellent accounts of breeding alpacas, frequently and proudly quote names such as Commissario, Conquistador, Ruffo, Spartacus, Top Account (yes, he's up there Graham and Jenny), Galaxy, Jacinto, Czar, Navigator etc. (please don't be offended if I have missed out your particular male or your favourite, it is merely a list as an example!) I obviously can't name them all and I may have spelt the names wrong but you get the picture, the list was just off the top of my head but the names are all familiar I am sure. These males, and as I have said the list is not exhaustive, possess genetics that anyone would love to have in their herd.

Some alpacas in a field with a woman.

However, if I am not very much mistaken the list is predominantly, if not exclusively, white. White alpacas with white genetics. There may be the odd beige or fawn male in there but essentially they are all white males, some are a bit whiter than others. Now I hope I am not offending or upsetting anyone here, as I said these alpacas possess genetics that we would all love in our herds, including me, these males are all outstanding. I haven't seen many of them you understand but I am assuming, from reputation alone that they are very good.

So what is the point of highlighting this? I'm not quite sure actually, I seem to have drifted off momentarily.

I had a nice green Thai curry last night, very nice.

So where were we, hold on, I will have to go upstairs and get the piece of paper that is on my bedside table. I awoke last night, my mind full of alpaca stuff and wrote some of it down. Woke Sue up I'm afraid such was the ferocity of my scribbling.

Right, it wasn't there, it was in the kitchen. I have no recollection of moving it to the kitchen but hey ho, may I refer you to previous memory related comments in this article.

Here is what I wrote, exactly as I scrawled it:

Breeding coloured alpacas
Herdsires - Spartacus, Commissario...... all white
Coloured alpacas - fawn, beige - no
Although very important - white/fawn
Shades of white
Boast superior white genetics
Colours - brown and down
coming from the dark side

The scribbled ramblings of an idiot half asleep.

Essentially what I was thinking was what we all know anyway, the top quality alpacas are at the lighter end of the colour spectrum. Not only that but that they are vitally important to the future of the alpaca industry. Quality is and must be everything within our industry, it simply has to be the focus for everyone.

So what all the claptrap about the dark side etc? Well what I was thinking and I haven't shifted my viewpoint since my night-time scribblings is this:

Here are some alpacas under a tree.

Beige alpacas are essentially white alpacas that aren't quite white enough, the same can be said for light fawn alpacas, they are white alpacas that just aren't white enough. I am of course, generalising as sometimes you get a white, beige or light fawn alpaca from dark coloured parents. Medium fawn? I think there is an argument for putting medium fawn alpacas in the same classification as beige and light fawn although these days there are all sorts of combinations with regards to mixing up the colours occurring at mating time and I can fully understand the thinking behind them.

So to the Patou herd. We don't have the genetics of which I burbled on about earlier. We don't have any of the names I mentioned featuring in any pedigrees. So my point is this (and it has taken all this rambling drivel to get to a point? Yes, yes it has). Is the reason that they don't feature because we are coming at alpacas from the opposite end of the colour spectrum or are we just not investing in the right matings?

To answer that we have to look at who we do have featuring in our pedigrees here in the weird, sometimes (mostly more like) confused world of Patou?

Lillyfield Jack of Spades of Inca, ATA Cambridge Centurion, Canchones Witness, three giants in the black alpaca world and all three hugely influential in the UK and Europe.  Ok,so not a bad start then.

Our boy Cambridge Columbus has done well for us and in the process of becoming the biggest influence (you don't know how much I want it to be a great influence) is Van Diemen Qjori of Patou, our Aussie brown boy. We have had 10 cria from him during the summer of which you may have read and there are 19 females bearing his progeny, due to birth here next year.

There are other notable males mentioned in the pedigrees of the herd and there need to be more introduced next year but so far I think we are heading in the right direction.

So, discuss, I suppose. I'd be interested to hear what you have to say on the matter.

Patou Talisker, wondering what's what.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Reluctant Poseurs!

When I walk around checking the alpacas when the sun is shining and the birds are singing one particular group of alpacas always makes me stop and watch just that little bit longer. The field with all the cria in? No, you would think that but no it is in fact the paddock at the top of the hill where Qjori and his minions live for most of the year. I happen to believe we have a pretty impressive looking bunch of brown male alpacas. Some are herdsire quality some are not but nevertheless they do look wonderful in the sunshine. They have all done very well for us in the show ring over the past couple of years. I often try and take a picture of them in a group but usually fail miserably. Anyway I thought I would share with you this weeks efforts, not perfect but I am getting there!

Qjori, Rafiki and Sultan have the pose but Woody and Roger are really not concentrating.

Qjori and Rafiki are still holding the pose but now Sultan has joined the naughty boys.

The dogs running back from an interesting smell cause some interest but Roger is now 'hiding'.

Finally everyone is paying attention but Woody is now hiding!

About as good as it gets everyone in a line and all sort of paying attention.

Now cropped, from left to right Roger, Qjori, Rafiki, Woody and Sultan. Now I need to get a photograph with a nice background, which doesn't include a telegraph pole!

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Fleece, fleece, fleece!

I am sorry that I haven't blogged for a while, there are several reasons, job, business, stuff, etc. Anyway here I am, my fingers dancing across the keyboard in a blur of dexterity and accuracy. Actually I am in a serious mood at the moment. I have been gibbering around in a whirl of caffeine fuelled frivolity for most of the day but I have calmed down and I am being, or I am trying to be, serious.

So, on to today's drivel.

Fleece, fibre, hair, fluff, wool, hirsuitedness, that's what its all about. The reason we breed these beautiful beguiling creatures is because of the fleece. The fact that we love them and want to hug them and enjoy everything about them, bar one thing of course is another matter, it is secondary. The number one reason for breeding alpacas is all about the fleece, the fibre etc......

So it was with great trepidation that I received the fleece results for the Mighty Patou herd last week. Great trepidation because I want them to be good but they generally aren't and there are normally one or two surprises. This year is no different. 

The main surprise this year is that the finest four alpacas in the paddocks here in Patouland are all the progeny of one male. Not Qjori,, his first progeny have only landed this year so we will see those results next year.

No, the four finest fleeced alpacas in the herd are all the progeny of our other herdsire. 

Yes folks, the herdsire in question is none other than Herr Clumpmeister himself, Cambridge Columbus.

Now Columbus hasn't been used this year as we have used Qjori over everything, we have done that to maximise his potential. Qjori is our top man, our main herdsire, he is 'The Special One' here in Patouland. 

Even though Columbus had produced some nice cria last year we wanted to see what Qjori could do over the same females. Qjori was a step up in quality we thought. Now though, the pressure is on.

Here is Columbus (with me at the controls) at The Bath and West Show a couple of years ago where he was first placed senior brown male. 

The thing about breeding brown alpacas, (those of you who know me or who read this missive will have gathered that I am rather passionate about the brownies) is that it's not easy. I know, I know, calm down I know it's not easy breeding any colour to a high standard but with the colours and particularly the browns there are several other dimensions to consider. 

Allow me to explain (bear in mind this is my opinion and my view only, it is not data gained from extensive research!) 
Bear with me, for example, there are many high quality white males in the UK. These males have come from many generations of whites and when put over a white female I doubt there are many colour 'mistakes' with the progeny? If I'm wrong please do let me know. We all know that the white alpacas are ahead quality wise too. How many supreme champions are non-white at the bigger shows? Not many. In fact very few at any show let alone the big ones. The new beige class may change that but still, at the moment whites reign supreme, there is no doubt.

So to the other colours. The further you get away from the whites the harder it has been to breed in quality. With the possible exception of black. A lot of time, money, expertise and hard work has been put into breeding black alpacas to a high quality. Not just here but all over the world. Black fleece is desireable. Black is a cool colour after all! So blacks are ahead of browns I reckon, and that's mainly down to Old Inca chops in my opinion.

So the darkest colour after black is obviously brown. That is where we come in, where we have decided to throw our tuppence worth in, where we choose to put all our efforts in. I mean Qjori came from Tasmania, we couldn't have looked any further away for a high quality brown male!

But our efforts started long before that. Our first three alpacas were black, brown and fawn. We decided to concentrate on brown after a year or so of owning alpacas. We used black males initially for several reasons.  Firstly there wasn't to my knowledge an outstanding brown male out there. Secondly, because of our close alliance with Inca chops we got to know the black males available and liked them. Thirdly, we wanted to breed dark brown alpacas or certainly the darker brown colour. We felt that we stood a reasonable chance of achieving that using black males.

We took the plunge after three years and bought Columbus, a brown male with a fine and dense fleece. Not only that but he had tremendous confirmation, great balance, great presence.

All his progeny have inherited his great confirmation and most have inherited his colour and now as a result of the fleece results we can see that they have inherited his fineness. The fact that the finest four alpacas here were all Clump progeny was the surprise. All of them are yearlings, naturally as you would expect but we have got ten yearlings here and the top four are Clump babies. In fact the finest alpaca here is the alpaca that Gus has been showing all year, little Sherwood (Woody to his friends)

Now I know there is more to life than fibre fineness, there is much more. Density, fibre length, brightness, handle (very important), conformation and of course colour, not to mention our old friend character but I feel the focus these days is fineness and low standard deviation so I think we are getting there!

Next year of course we will be hoping that the nine 'Q' cria we have will match and surpass those statistics but I will no doubt be waiting with trepidation for the fibre results to come through!

Van Diemen Qjori of Patou, the pressure is on but the signs, so far, are looking good!