Our breeding: maximising fleece value through balanced breeding
At Patagonia Alpacas we have a clear idea of the type of alpacas we want to be breeding. Our initial focus with alpacas was on colour, but experience in the industry has led to a change in direction over the years. With alpaca positioned as a luxury natural fibre, we realised the importance of focusing on the key attributes that reinforce this positioning - high lustre, softness and silky soft handle. These are the attributes that make alpaca a sought after fibre by processors and consumers. The wonderful range of colours makes alpaca distinctive, but we believe that the main breeding focus must be delivering on the promise of luxury fibre irrespective of colour.
Our views have been significantly influenced by regular attendance at fibre workshops presented by the late Dr Jim Watts. As a consequence, our breeding strategy has been refined over the last 18 years. Patagonia's aim is to breed alpacas that can continue to produce high value fleeces up to the fifth shearing (no greater than 25 micron at fifth shearing).
This objective takes time to achieve and requires a focused breeding plan. In the absence of reliable estimated breeding values for desirable traits of fleece weight, fibre diameter, fleece length and micron blowout we select for high fleece weights, strong crimp definition, ultra-soft handle, long fibre length and high lustre rather than directly chasing for low micron which seems to be a more common breeding strategy in the Australian alpaca industry. We are finding that as density and length increases each year in our crias, we are making more progress in lowering fibre diameter than by selecting directly for fineness.
Progress on fleece weight means that it is critical that animals have the frame to support this.So, consideration of conformation is important when making selection and breeding decisions.
Select females well matched to elite sires are at the core of any successful breeding strategy. Patagonia Alpacas has a breeding plan that involves the use of elite sires proven by progeny and specifically mated to each individual female in the herd. Up until recently, Patagonia had relied on extensive use of outside matings to access superior genetics.