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  Article Authored by: Mike Safley, Northwest Alpacas
Article Submitted: September 2002
   
   

 

 
 

The Ideal Alpaca: Suri & Huacaya

 
 
Everyone would like to buy, breed, and sell perfect alpacas. To do that, we must first have a vivid picture of “perfect” in our mind’s eye. The ideal alpaca will always be a goal that moves as we come near. That is the way animal breeding is; founded in evolution.

First and foremost, an alpaca is a production animal. The product it creates is fleece. An alpaca’s ultimate value flows from its ability to create fine, dense fleece that is coveted by the makers of luxury garments.

It also so happens that the fleece characteristics which make an alpaca valuable are heritable. When mated properly, alpacas pass these fleece traits on to their offspring. At the end of the day, the ideal alpaca produces an elite fleece and quality cria with high breeding value. I found the following quote in the classic sheep breeding text from Australia, The Merino Past Present and Probable, 1943, by H.B. Austin:

“If the sheepbreeder, then, goes to his woolbroker for advice; distrusts, on principle, all stud 'sales talk' and other propaganda; heeds the scientist; endeavours to buy rams that will breed truly, and feeds his sheep properly, the increased profit collectively, to the whole industry, may well be ‘hundreds of thousands of pounds a year.'"

If you simply substitute the word “alpaca” for “sheep” or “merino,” you will begin to see what it takes to create the ideal alpaca. In other words, avoid the hype, use genetically sound selection and breeding systems, always use impact herd sires, and feed your herd correctly.
 

 

THE IDEAL ALPACA
 

An ideal alpaca's look begins with the head, a dense top knot, well-covered cheeks converging with the wool cap to form a close V at the eyes, which are brown. The ears are shaped like an arrowhead and erect. The muzzle is soft and wedge shaped. The jaw should fit together correctly, with the lower incisors meeting the upper dental pad. The head and neck make up about one-third of an alpaca's height, the body makes up one-third, as do the legs. The neck connects to the shoulder at approximately a 45° angle to the back, which is straight, dropping off a bit at the tail. When the alpaca is alert, the neck and back form almost a 90° angle with the head slightly forward. The perfect alpaca has a squared off appearance, with four strong legs setting squarely under it, giving it a graceful stance which translates into a fluid gait. The ideal alpaca has a soft, dense fleece, which is completed with abundant coverage down the legs. 

The alpaca’s head is a window onto its quality and type: both huacaya and suri. The head of the ideal suri should exhibit well-covered cheeks and a bearded chin. The suri’s fleece should begin locking at the forehead and continue uniformly down the neck, across the body and down the legs, finishing at the toes. The head of the ideal huacaya should exhibit a dense top knot which is crimpy. The cheeks should be well covered, and the bridge of the nose clean. The crimp in the top knot should continue down the neck, across the blanket, and into the tail, finishing down the belly and legs.

The stars of any herd will catch your eye with an alert, erect appearance. Their fleece opens into well-organized locks of soft, bright, and lustrous fleece, which handles like silk or cashmere. Above all, an ideal alpaca will never be mistaken for a llama. 
 

 
THE IDEAL SURI FLEECE
 

The primary characteristic which distinguishes a suri from a huacaya is the phenotype of its fleece. The suri's fleece falls close to the body, moves freely, and gives the animal a lustrous, flat-sided appearance. The luster found in the suri’s fleece is the primary indication of the animal’s quality. In addition, the fiber should be fine, and have good handle (a more slippery hand than huacaya) with a well-nourished feel. The locks or ringlets that make up the fleece should be round, form close to the skin, and have uniform twist to the end. Ideally, the style of lock should be uniform from the top knot to the hock; particular attention should be paid to uniformity across the midside. The legs and underbelly should be well covered. 

A more rounded or fluffy appearance can indicate volume rather than density in a suri’s fleece which is undesirable. There should be no crimp in the staple, but a low wave is desirable along the length of an individual fiber. Due to the compactness of the fleece, suris often give the appearance of being smaller than the huacaya, but this is an optical illusion. The suri should be every bit as big and robust as a huacaya. Think of the ideal suri as producing a curtain of silk to grace its sturdy frame.

Positive Suri Traits in Order of Importance and Emphasis: 

Luster 25% 
Fineness 25% 
Density 25% 
Trueness to Fleece Type 15%
Staple Length 5% 
Uniformity 5% 

Faults:

Crimp
Medulation
Guard hair
Lack of twist (flat, open fleece with no lock definition)
Chalkiness or lack of luster
Short staple length for age of fleece
Coarse handle
Lack of density
Rounded appearance; indicates fluffiness rather than density
Tender breaks

THE IDEAL HUACAYA FLEECE
 

The ideal huacaya's fleece should be: fine, dense, uniform, and grow perpendicular to the skin. The fleece, which grows from individual follicles in the skin, should be made up of defined staples of crimpy “bundled” fleece. These bundles should organize themselves into staples which create a dense presentation across the animal. The huacaya alpaca should be well covered with a soft, uniform fleece, except on the ears and the bridge of the nose of mature animals. The muzzle and ears should be soft to the touch. The elite alpaca has a well-defined crimp in their top knot, which continues down the neck, into the blanket the belly, and on to the tail. There should be very little medulation. The fleece should be well-nourished, exhibit a brightness or sheen, and be void of dull, dry, chalky fiber. The ideal huacaya will produce fleece as soft and as fine as cashmere. Huacaya alpaca is spun into luxury garments that can be worn close to the skin.

Positive Huacaya Traits in Order of Importance and Emphasis:

Fineness 30% 
Density 30% 
Crimp 15% 
Uniformity 10% 
Luster or brightness 10% 
Staple length 5% 

Faults: 

Coarse guard hair through the saddle or blanket of the fleece
A high proportion of medullated fleece
Tender breaks
Muffled face on adults
Lack of density
Lack of overall coverage 
Chalkiness or lack of luster/sheen/brightness
Coarse handle 
Short staple length for age of fleece
Lack of Crimp

Study the pictures of the suri and huacaya alpacas that appear in this article. Examine their fleeces. Burn these images on your mind and make them part of your quest when you search for or work to breed the ideal alpaca. Always remember that an alpaca is valuable for both, its fleece and its ability to produce excellence in its progeny.

About the Author:
 
Mike Safley was elected president of the fledgling Alpaca Owners and Breeders Association (AOBA) in 1990. While serving as president of AOBA, he conceived of and became the first editor for Alpacas magazine. He wrote for the magazine for almost ten years. He was chairman of the first AOBA alpaca show committee and on the first alpaca marketing committee. 

An accredited alpaca judge, Mike has judged alpaca shows in the United States, Peru, Australia, and Canada. As a member of AOBA’s first show committee, he authored the first alpaca show rules used in the United States and Canada. He was the initial organizer of the All American Alpaca Futurity, which awarded the first championship ribbons to alpacas in the United States.

You can reach Mike at Northwest Alpacas, 11785 SW River Road, Hillsboro, Oregon, 97123, or online at www.alpacas.com or www.alpacanation.com/northwestalpacas.asp.
 
 

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