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Improve Your Herd

Good Breeding Decisions Lead to Herd Advancement.

Hello everyone! We decided to go on ahead and post our live video chat from AOA; How to Make Good Breeding Decisions to Improve Your Herd with Sharon Milligan for easier accessibility. This can also be found on the AOA website for those who would like to watch the video feed provided, as we are just providing the readable portion here on our website.



Marc and I have been breeding alpacas in Livermore Colorado for a little over 13 years now. We started out with eleven alpacas, nine of which were females, three were bred and along with them came two males that as it turned out were basically useless to our program, simply because they were related to the nine females. But this is not uncommon because that is how a lot of farms start out. We were very specific with the females that we wanted, and the person that we purchased from would not allow us to have the females we wanted unless we took two males and that's where we were at  that point, and that is a common affliction unfortunately for a lot of breeders that are just getting started.


Did We Make the Right choice?

Take a look at this picture of this dam and cria (mother and baby) and your first question when you see this mom and this baby here is did we make the right choice, did we make the right breeding choice that produced this cute little baby? There are a couple things that you can tell from that picture, one of which is that we probably did okay with the female because she's there, she's alive and she produced a live cria. Did the breeding work? Yes, because we had a live cria, but did this breeding produce and advance our program? We cannot tell at this time and probably wont be able to tell for another six months to a year, so that question that you ask yourself; did we make the right choice, you're probably going to be asking it to yourself several times in that first year after that baby hits the ground.


What Comes Into Play When Making a Good Breeding Decision?

First, would be the willingness to evaluate your long-term goals for your breeding program. Now, a lot of people think that because I'm doing one thing and that they're doing another that our goals are different but if you're breeding animals I believe that your goals are going to be no different than mine. I want to produce an animal that is healthy, has great conformation and is producing a fleece that we can use (we don't use ours on our farm because I'm not talented enough to do that but, one that we can sell to other people to make products out of), and so I am no different than anyone else that is making breeding decisions. You want healthy animals, you also want longevity with the product which is their fleece that they produce and anyone breeding should have those same basic goals, whether you're a fleece farm or you have more emphasis in your tourism and you are breeding or if you're a seed stock farm like we are.

The other thing that you need to really do is look at your alpacas with a clear and informed mind. By this I mean have some knowledge of some terms to where you can evaluate the fleece and their conformation and know exactly what you have, as well as that experience being taught by other people. A lot of it is book learning or can be book learning. Those evaluations are extremely important so that you're able to see your goal and move forward with you herd, developing some type of record or keeping system is also extremely important. It needs to be accessible quickly and accurately, one that includes all of your alpacas information, or as much as you can put into it. A lot of people will say "I do keep records, I have a folder on every single one of my animals!" Now this may work if you have four or five animals, but even as you collect when you're doing the breeding process year after year that folder becomes very large and it can become very cluddersome, so there needs to be a system that you're keeping your records in that is quick and easy to access. We use Herdes, there is also one on Openherd but there's probably a couple others you can use to establish something with your own computer to keep those records in as long as they are accessible to you.

Develop your own Breeding Objectives Plan. Where do I want to be down the road at some point whether that's two years, five years, or even ten years. I want to breed and come out with this type of animal in that objective plan, we'll go over that a little bit more as we go on. A basic understanding of some really basic terms of genetics is also super important when creating this plan.


Record Keeping

Individual Alpaca Records -- you need your health records on your animals, both males and females, weights and growth records, vaccination records, vitamin records, EVERYTHING. That is the only way you can tell if there is an issue once you've bred someone and an issue comes up later down the read and you might need to determine why that may have caused an issue. Those records are extremely important.

Females: Easy onetime breeders, length of pregnancies, absorption/abortion, dystocia's, milk-production-late-abundant-not at all, Dam's interest in cria, non or assisted births. Females that i can breed one time and she gets pregnant and we can move forward and not have any issues with that (that's a great females by the way), length of her pregnancies, what is her average length that she carries pregnancies. We use 340 days as our due date, so is she early is she late all the time or wha's the average. So I know that when we start delivering our babies in the spring and summer, where she should fall into if she doesn't then I have an understanding that I may have an issue, that record is super important as well. Abortion and absorption records. if i can breed a female one time and in two weeks she's open and receptive again that record is extremely important to me. Do i have an issue with this female, what types of tests and things and I going to have to deal with her dystocias and any kind of dystocia that record should also be kept so that you know if a female has a developing issue with dystocias. Milk Production, is it late, abundant or not at all. Really basic things that are important when you're making decisions on who to breed and who not to breed. A dam's interest in crias. We have a wide variety of females, some of them are so attentive and don't want you to touch their babies, while others are very attentive from a distance and watch you but they don't care if you touch them or not and they don't care what they're are doing as long as they can see where the are at. So that dam's interest is another important one.

Males. Again with the males. you take the males and you do the exact same thing with them as you do your females. Their abilities/attitude/number of live births/male vs female cria ratio.

Fiber Stats and Evaluation: Micron tests, EPD's, Coefficient of inbreeding, certified Judge/show evaluations. This also includes your own frequent evaluations of your alpacas.


Important Basic Terms

These are some rather important terms that you should have a basic understanding about. I am not a geneticist and I do not claim to be, but they're things that make it easier to understand when you're making certain decisions about your breeding program.


  • Phenotype: Genetic Make-up as evident by appearance (How the Animal looks)
  • Genotype: True genetic make-up regardless of appearance. Phenotype=Genotype 30% + environment 70% including feeding, climate, trace elements.
  • Homozygous: When an alpaca has two genes on a chromosome pair for a particular trait.
  • Culling: When a breeder is willing to remove animals from their breeding program that do not meet their breeding objectives. Breeders will obtain whole herd genetic gain when culling is practiced. Culling is extremely important and that does not mean that you just have to totally get rid of the animal, it just means that you must be willing to remove animals from your breeding program, not your breeding objectives. If you want to have a whole herd genetic gain you have to practice culling.
  • Out Cross: Breeding of animals that are unrelated to encourage the expression of a desired genetic trait.
  • Line Breeding: Is the concentration of the genes of a specific ancestor or ancestors by their appearance multiple times in a pedigree with the purpose of developing consistency and uniformity within a herd. using some degree of line breeding increases the odds of producing offspring displaying desirable traits.
  • InBreeding: The breeding of very closely related relatives. Example: Father/Daughter, full brother/full sister
  • EPD: The prediction of how future progeny of each animal expected to perform relative to the progeny of other animals listed.
  • Coefficient of Inbreeding: Calculates the probability that two copies of a gene variant (allele) have been inherited from an ancestor common to each parent.



  • Your alpacas ancestral line is verified and recorded if registered with AOA. This is the pedigree.
  • The knowledge of your alpacas pedigree is invaluable when making breeding decisions. You need to know the strengths of each of your animals in order to move forward correctly when breeding.
  • If you are breeding without knowledge of an alpacas pedigree you are breeding blind folded and the results will be inconsistent and most likely stagnant.


Developing Breed Objectives

  • Probably the most important aspect of a successful breeding program.
  • You must stick to your identified objectives for herd advancement.
  • Determine what you see as the perfect alpaca, this includes fleece, conformation and attitude.
  • Assign a simple method of evaluation, numerical normally works best.
  • Evaluate your cria at birth, within the first year and before breeding to make sure they meet your breeding goals or at least are moving in the right directions without serious faults.
  • Evaluate each breeding female based on her own traits as well as her offspring. Just because a female is older and not what she ised to be does not mean she shouldn't be breeding.
  • Evaluate a Herdsire in the same manner


Evaluation Example

Below is the evluation/grading system we use on ALL of our animals. One being the lowest rating, five being the best rating. We also have places to mark what type of fleece style the animal has. We highly reccomend using this.


Grading           Comments:
High Frequency 1 2 3 4 5  
Low Frequency 1 2 3 4 5  
High Amplitude 1 2 3 4 5  
Low Amplitude 1 2 3 4 5  
Uniformity 1 2 3 4 5  
Density 1 2 3 4 5  
Fineness 1 2 3 4 5  
Handle 1 2 3 4 5  
Brightness 1 2 3 4 5  
Lack of Guard Hair 1 2 3 4 5  
Staple Length 1 2 3 4 5  
Uniform in Color 1 2 3 4 5  
Head Style 1 2 3 4 5  
Conformation 1 2 3 4 5  
Attidue/Demenor 1 2 3 4 5  


Wednesday, March 13, 2024