Alpaca Breeding Considerations

So you have decided to become an alpaca breeder. When do you need to begin formulating your program's breeding strategy? Beginning with the purchase of your first animals! Here are some breeding decisions shared by breeders in the industry

  • "I bought my first animal because she had the same name as my grandmother!"
  • "I was able to get two free breed backs to their stud"
  • "This farm had the best (cheapest) prices I have seen"

Definitely not the optimal breeding decisions because they did not formulate a breeding strategy based upon the animals they were buying. They also did not buy animals based upon a breeding strategy. In short, to succeed, you need a plan. Why do so many people fail at what they set out to accomplish? The answer is very simple and has been the subject of many wise sayings. My favorite: “Those who fail to plan, plan to fail.” Let's look at a few of the considerations that can make your breeding program successful.

Herd Size

How large do you expect to grow? This factor comes into play every time you breed. Depending on how many females you have, you need to ensure you do not breed yourself into a corner. Referring to the example above regarding two breed backs, this was a farm that started with two females. The two purchased females were already bred to the male they were being given six more breedings to; however, their offspring (provided they are females) should not be bred to this sire. What about breeding to another male on the seller’s farm? The buyers did inquire and found both studs were related. Now the buyers found themselves needing to find additional stud services for which they had not planned for financially.

Color

Do you want to concentrate on one specific color or a few? Regardless of whether you change your mind over the years there are tools to help you — the AOA database for one. When purchasing animals you can research pedigrees and see what colors in any registered animal’s background. Color genetics is not an exact science but use the data available to assist in your purchasing and breeding choices.

Characteristics

There have been many books written on traits or type characteristics. Step 1 — familiarize yourself with them! Conformation and fleece characteristics will be the focus of your breeding program so get your hands on as many alpacas as possible. You want to make sure animals lack traits that are undesirable from both a health and physical perspective (training your eyes). Understand the basics of health assessments which include body scoring, proportions, and proper bite. Close your eyes and feel the difference in fleece characteristics among animals (train your hands) and assess coverage, density, fineness (micron), crimp and brightness. There are a number of tools available to aid in assessing fleece, such as histograms, and in assessing traits passed on, such as EPD (Expected Progeny Difference).

Attending alpaca shows is an excellent way to obtain feedback on your offspring. Your alpacas are judged against a number of other farms’ alpacas so you can gauge how well your program is progressing. Listen to the judge’s oral reasons for placement and become familiar with the characteristics they are assessing.

Pairing Dams and Sires

Studs come in different sizes and price ranges; what traits are you trying to improve upon? Does the stud you are considering have progeny on the ground that you can assess? What traits does this particular male pass on to his offspring? What traits are associated with the female’s offspring? Are there negative traits associated with either alpacas backgrounds? These are just a few of the questions you need to ask yourself when determining which females will be bred to which males. Refer to each alpaca’s pedigree information and ask questions of those providing stud services or selling you an animal.

The best alpacas for your program may not be the least expensive or the most expensive. Determine your budget, prepare a business plan, and align your breeding plan with both. By having a well thought out plan and utilizing the wealth of information available, you are on the right path to making educated, well-informed breeding decisions.

Contributor: Wayne Robinson

Reproduction Information

A male in the act of mating, or hoping for a chance to mate, "orgles" (sings). This orgling helps to put the female in the mood, and it is believed to also help her to ovulate after mating.

Females are "induced ovulators," which means that the act of mating and the presence of semen causes them to ovulate. Occasionally, females conceive after just one breeding (which can last anywhere from five minutes to well over an hour; the males are "dribble ejaculators,") but can have troubles conceiving. Artificial insemination is technically difficult because the act of breeding stimulates ovulation — but it can be accomplished.

A male is usually ready to mate for the first time between one and three years of age. A female alpaca may fully mature (physically and mentally) between 12–24 months. It is not advisable to allow a young female to be bred until she is mature, as over breeding a young female before conception is possible is a common cause of uterine infections. As the age of maturation varies greatly between individuals, it is usually recommended that novice breeders wait until females are 18 months of age or older before initiating breeding.

The young male's penis is attached to the prepuce, and generally does not detach until one to two years of age. The penis is a very long, thin, prehensile organ that is perfectly adapted for the task of finding the vaginal opening despite a fluffy tail, penetrating the hymen (if present,) navigating the vaginal canal and entering the cervical opening, where deposit of the semen occurs.

Pregnancies last 11.5 months ± 2 weeks, and usually result in a single offspring or cria. Twins are rare, approximately 1/1000, slightly rarer than the proportion of twins in human births. After a female gives birth, she is generally receptive to breeding again after approximately two weeks. Crias may be weaned through human intervention at approximately 6 months and 60 pounds. However, many breeders prefer to allow the female to decide when to wean her offspring. Offspring can be weaned earlier or later depending on their size and emotional maturity.

Relevant Breeding Links

Genetics & Breeding Articles