One EPD System: One Alpaca Industry

On October 8, 2009, Dr. David Notter, one of the foremost experts on Expected Progeny Differences (EPDs) in the world, published the following opinion in an article that was posted on the Ideal Alpaca Community (IAC) website and sent in an email to the alpaca owners here in the United States.

“A particular concern surrounds the potential to have multiple EPD programs in the U.S. alpaca industry …, If two or more systems coexist, utilizing data from different animals, the result will be that widely used sires with progeny and other relatives in all the systems will get DIFFERENT EPDs in each system. None of them will be “right” or “wrong.” They will simply be different because they are based on different records from different animals. How “different” will they be? That depends on the amount of data available for each animal in each system. For young animals, or breeding animals with few progeny, they may be quite different. For progeny‑tested sires, they should become consistent, but if some sires are highly represented in one system but poorly represented in another, consistency of EPDs can be quite poor.”

“We have seen this situation emerge in other species. In the 1980’s, breeders of Hereford cattle in Canada had the choice to participate in a Canadian national government program, an Ontario-based program, or the U.S. Hereford breed program. Different breeders made different choices, and as a result, widely used sires often had three different EPDs circulating in the industry. Again, none was right or wrong; each was just based on different data. Human nature being what it is, owners of those bulls chose to merchandize them based on their “best” EPDs, even as other owners were promoting their own animals based on EPDs from a different system. The result was chaotic and the systems have now thankfully merged into a single system. A single system now not only produces consistent EPDs but also produces maximally accurate EPDs because the system has access to all available records.”

“I have enjoyed providing genetic evaluation services to the IAC. I sense these initial alpaca EPDs are having a strong impact on the industry. However, my purpose here is not to attempt to compare, or otherwise promote, one program over another (ARI verses the IAC). I do believe, however, that it is critically important that the U.S. have ONE alpaca EPD program. ALL data needs to flow into one system in order to maximize the accuracy of the resulting EPDs and, more importantly, to avoid production of apparently (though not truly) inconsistent EPDs across the systems. Thus, I encourage all interested alpaca breeders to come together to develop a single comprehensive U.S. system for alpaca genetic evaluation.

Not long after this email was published an ARI Board of Directors member who read this article approached me about the possibility of consolidating our two programs. I immediately agreed to talk about how we could work together to avoid the problem presented by having two programs. I met with the ARI Board in Lincoln, Nebraska, to discuss a strategy for how we might accomplish the goal of one program.

I passionately believe that EPDs are the future of our industry. I spent 7 years creating the IAC EPD program. I believe that an EPD based selection system is the only way we will ever create a profitable fiber market for our fleeces. EPDs are the path the United States should follow to create the world’s finest alpacas. I also know that my conviction and faith in the program would be put at risk if two programs were established. I came to believe that ARI was far better suited as the ultimate home for an industry based EPD program. As a result of my understanding of EPDs and their value to the industry, I decided to step aside and give ARI a clear field of vision in taking the EPD concept to the next level of excellence. From this day forward ARI will be the sole provider of EPDs in the United States.

I want to thank all of the farms that joined the IAC EPD program and provided the thousands of records that led to the historic publishing of the first EPDs three years ago. We also became the first large scale study to publish alpaca heritability estimates for 7 different traits. I believe that this work, particularly the EPD values for medulated fiber in both white and colored alpacas, will revolutionize how alpacas are selected. I also want to thank my friend Angus McColl who was instrumental in guiding my thinking, creating the fleece reports, and for leading me to Dr. David Notter who ultimately took a pile of histograms and designed a working EPD program. Finally I want to thank the ARI Board of Directors for their foresight in creating a single EPD system.