Thursday, October 6, 2016

Musings on Breeding While Doing Chores

I think I do most of my thinking when I am working in my two alpaca barns. So, here are a few "off the top of my head observations" from the last couple of days.

If you want to be known for your stud males, be known for the quality of your dams. Now, this really is true. New market entrants go through a couple of phases, including the "research phase," the "build-out phase," and then the "build from within phase." Whenever I meet someone in the "build-out phase," I try to advise them that there is an important interim phase called the "take stock phase" when it is wise to cool one's jets, stop acquiring and see what those dams can produce for one's program! I am confident that those that do not allow for a "take stock" period could be doomed to repeat their build-out phase. Now, I am not sure that some ever achieve the "build from within phase," to be perfectly honest. It was a long-term goal of mine to produce my own dam lines here, from my original foundation herd. I did achieve this, and I still wince when I sell a female that I am certain would be the perfect replacement for her dam, but I still believe in selling my best. Admittedly, I was a bit of a hoarder at one time, but learning to let go and allow herd improvement to be passed on to one's customers takes some time but it pays dividends. There is a common misconception that, if you do not keep buying to upgrade your herd, you can fall behind the curve. While there could be a degree of truth to this, if everyone were trait breeding rather than trying to pile on as many big-name males as they can muster, I tend to believe this is, at the very least, a partial fallacy. Herd improvement, TRUE herd improvement, can only be achieved if a person carefully scores dams and then selects a male that will not downgrade any of the dam's best features but might hone and enhance a trait or two where the female could be upgraded. Admittedly, there are other herd improvement models that take far longer to have an impact. I have one question for those that hold to this premise of constantly buying to "stay ahead of the curve:" if Caligula, Bueno and Hemingway were still alive and you were offered the opportunity to breed to them, would you? Too, there have been import dams who have had such superlative production records that, while they might have made a replacement offspring, when you lose one of these import girls (and I have), you feel that loss very acutely.

The waiting is the hardest part (apologies to Tom Petty). Okay, we wait 11.5 months (or more) for a cria to be born. If you do elite lights, you might also talk about having to wait for the "second fleece." I cannot tell you how many people have offered me females that "just don't have the fleece I was looking for," only for me to be the beneficiary of knowing, based on architecture, that this animal would be burning up the show-ring as a yearling. Then, there is the question of when a female is ready (or a male, for that matter). When I started in this business every female that could be bred was bred -- it was a given. Prices demanded no less, really. Now, we know better than that, but the big question at the first Ohio State Camelid Conference in 1998 was "when do I start breeding my females?" And, while there were those that demurred, the general consensus among people who had more experience was "100 pounds or a year of age, whichever comes first." We were even handed the argument that, even if the female has some growing to do, her calcium stores would not be necessary for the cria until the final trimester. Well, as with so many "rule of thumb issues" that is patently untrue, based on mine and others' experiences. Moreover, I see females that mature at 18 months and are just plain ready, I see some that can wait to three years of age before they are receptive to breeding. There is both physical readiness and emotional readiness. And when it comes to when the males are ready, I think Mother Nature has a very nasty sense of humor because every fiber quality male seems to know precisely what to do and is willing to do it long before your best males even "get" why a bunch of females are dropping at their feet! If you have ever experienced a gate being left open that separates males from females, you know what I am talking about. That said, I have seen males start at 16 months and they settle females pronto, and I have seen guys at two years of age going through the motions with gusto and they are not settling females, but five months later, they turn into the five minute wonder breeders that catch a female in a single breeding, time after time after time. I have also had many males that waited until they were three years of age, and I can think of one very famous import male that did not start breeding until age six -- and admittedly that six year outlier is not one I would like to have to experience or consider breeding into my lines. I think the principal take-away from this is that alpacas are all INDIVIDUALS, and good things will come to those that wait.