Do You Have the Eye?
Author: Susanne Evon
Many other breeders have told me that I have a great eye for picking out extremely nice alpacas. Well, Im here to tell you that you can have that eye too and pick out very nice alpacas for your farm. Having the eye is actually a very methodical process that I use for viewing each alpaca completely. It has worked for me for many years and hopefully, if you choose to use it, the process will work for you also.
For whatever reason you are attracted to a particular alpaca, that is when the process of having the eye begins. As I observe the full side profile of the alpaca, I begin by assessing its proportions, asking myself the following questions: (See Photo #1)
1) If I were to lay the alpacas head and neck down along its back, would it extend about 2/3rds of the way along the length of the back?
2) Is the length of the neck of the alpaca about the length of its front legs?
3) Does the body of the alpaca, from the front legs through the mid body to the back legs, appear to form a square?
4) Do the back feet of the alpaca form about a 60 degree angle of inclination?
5) Does the alpacas neck meet its body at almost a 90 degree angle?
6) Is the alpacas back straight from the shoulders through the rump?
7) Does the alpacas tail begin shortly after the turn of the rump?
8) Does the alpaca have an over-all presence? Does the alpaca look proud? Is the alpaca alert and aware of what is happening around it?
9) Does the alpaca have that look? That look is the head type that you are attracted to. It is the only subjective portion of having the eye. We may not like the same head type, but everything that the head is carried around on, should be in agreement. We both should have answered Yes to questions 1 - 8.
Looking at the alpaca from a full front prospective, I assess the following characteristics: (See Photo #2)
1) Does the alpaca have a good breadth of chest?
2) Are the alpacas front legs straight?
3) Does the alpaca have good size bone?
4) Do the front legs look strong?
5) Do the alpacas toes point forward?
6) Do the feet form a solid, well spaced, base for the alpaca?
7) Does the alpaca have good fiber coverage on its front legs?
Again, all of the answers to these questions should be Yes.
Looking at the rear legs of the alpaca (See Photo #3), I should see very similar characteristics:
1) Do the alpacas hind legs have a well spaced distance from one another, from the
hip to the feet? We dont want to see hocks that point toward one another or rub
2) Do the alpacas back feet point straight forward?
3) Do the alpacas back feet form a well spaced, solid base for both standing and movement? We will look at movement in more depth later.
4) Do the hind legs have good size bone?
5) Do the hind legs look strong and do they support the alpaca well?
6) Is there good fiber coverage on the back legs?
It is at this point in our observations, if we have said Yes to everything so far, we would approach the owner of the alpaca for a closer look. If the alpaca had not met our conformational criteria up to this point, we would have looked no further. No one at this point even knows of our interest in a particular alpaca and no ones feelings get hurt if the alpaca, in our opinion, doesnt measure up. We have assesed the body type of the alpaca. The components of the body type (the conformation) are the hardest to improve upon through breeding so at this point we are about 3/4ths of the way toward making a final decision in respect to this alpaca. We still need to look at the alpacas bite and watch the alpaca walk towards us and away from us before all of the conformational criteria have been assessed. We will leave these 2 things, along with checking the testicles if its a male or checking to make sure there are 4 teats & a well formed vulva if a female, until after we access the fleece of the alpaca.
As you begin to assess the fiber of the alpaca, after discussing the sire & dam of the alpaca, along with the age, sex & general health with the owner, the first time you put your hands on the alpaca, you will be assessing many things: the handle, the density and fineness of the fiber along with condition scoring the alpaca itself. You need to be able to understand and balance the components of great fiber - density, fineness, uniformity, brightness and crimp style. After your initial hands-on, you are ready to begin looking at the fiber. I look first in the blanket area. (See Photo #4 ) I am assessing the staple length and the character of the fiber. As I look at the fleece, I am looking at the crimp characteristics and the brightness of the fleece. Is the crimp pattern consistant from the base of the fiber to the tip? I look at both the frequency (the # of crimps/inch) and the amplitude (the
depth/height of each crimp) of the crimp. There is a great variety in crimp style and this is the second area that may be subjective as to the type of crimp that you like. Whether you like a bold crimp (less frequency/inch) or a narrow crimp, you should be able to assess the frequency and amplitude and consistency of the crimp objectively. These initial fleece impressions are then looked for on all other areas of the body. I look from the blanket down into the belly area - the further the fleece characteristics extend into and under the belly, the better. I then usually look from the blanket area towards the rump, through the hip area and down the legs. Next, I look from the blanket up into the neck fleece and then into the top knot. I also look down the front legs hoping to find the same type of fleece. The more consistent the fleece pattern stays over the entire body, the better the alpaca and the more you can expect to pay.
After assessing the fleece, I will then check the bite to make sure that the lower jaw is not beyond the upper palate (See Photo #5). The lower jaw should meet the palate or be a little bit behind it. Dont mistake teeth that need maintenance and, therefore, extend beyond the palate to necessarily be an incorrect bite. Compare the front of the jaw bone itself with the palate when assessing the bite.
If the assessment of the alpaca continues to be positive, I will then check the external reproductive components. The testicles, if the alpaca is a male, should be of equal size and if felt should feel consistent to the touch. The male alpaca should be well endowed (See Photo #6). If the alpaca is a female, the vulva should be good size, symmetric and balanced, not tipping up or down, left or right. The female should also have 4 teats, which are evenly spaced and not inverted or poorly shaped. They need to be easily accessable to, and easily managed by, nursing cria for many years.
Again, if all is still good with this particular alpaca, I would ask the owner to walk the alpaca away from me initially and then back towards me. As the alpaca is walking away from me, I am looking for well-spaced and firmly-placed rear feet as the alpaca is lead away from me. I do not want to see a crossing over of the rear feet or rope walking (one tracking). I do not want to see and weakness in the rear hips or joints. Well-spaced and firmly placed rear feet are key. As the alpaca is lead back towards me, I should see the same characteristics in the front feet. I do not want to see any hesitation in the gait of the alpaca or weakness of any kind.
Assuming the alpaca has passed all of our tests, it is at this point that you need to re-assess the alpaca as a whole. You need to decide if you think this alpaca will bring you closer to reaching the goals of your alpaca program and if the price being asked for the alpaca is worth the genetics and improvement it will bring to your
herd. Only you can answer these last few questions. Whether you decide to purchase this particular alpaca or not, you have followed a methodical process of assessment and you now have the eye for choosing really great alpacas. It has worked for me for many years and it can also work for you if you choose to use it. Good Luck in Your Search for Your Perfect Alpaca.
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