John & Susan Merrell
41390 Hwy 226
Scio, OR 97374
503-551-7219 (cell)
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Breed Standards

Alpaca Breeds Standards have been the source of much debate in the United States.  The Alpaca Owners and Breeders Association spent the better part of two years grappling with the issue, in the end being unable to develop a consensus view on their utility or adoption.

While at least one author has taken a strong stance in favor of the adoption of breed standards, using such terms as "primitive", "improved" and "ideal" to describe phenotypic variations in alpacas, there has also been a strong undercurrent of suspicion that a few influential breeders would use breed standards not as a vehicle for the improvment of the overall national herd, but as a means to better market thier own animals.

There are several fundamental problems related to breed standards that the U.S. alpaca community has yet to reach agreement on.  Not the least of these issues is the proper definition of "breed".  Strong arguments can be made that distinct breeds of alpacas do not yet exist.  Rather, it is argued, we are dealing with a species that has not been subjected to the kind of selective breeding that would create breeds.  If this premise is accepted, then it follows that the premature adoption of breed standards would lead to a loss of genetic variability within the national herd and would have a long range deleterious impact on the industry.

Antoher problem related to the adoption of breed standards for alpacas is that of specificity.  Some proponents argue for a general standard that identifies faults (although it is not clear what the status of animals demonstrating such faults would be as far as registration).  Other proponents argue that an "ideal" must be defined - a target that all alpaca breeders should be aiming for.

Opponents of breed standards argue in turn that a general standard is so broad as to lack utility, nad that standards based on an ideal have proven to be largely unsuccseful in other types of domesticated animals.  Further, they point out, there has been little research to establish economically valuable traits in alpacas, which would lead to aesthetically pleasing standards that might well fail to further breed development.

 The issue of breed standards in the United States remains open.  Meanwhile, several different standards ranging from the general to the specific have been developed in other parts of the world.  The IAJS Alpaca Breed Standard is quite specific.  The AABA Breed Standard is far more general in nature, as are the AAA Breed Standards.   Closer to home, the Canadian Breed Standard is available for review.

At Gateway Farm we are of the opinion that it is premature to adopt an alpaca breed standard.  Information about physical and reproductive soundness is readily available, and these should guide one's breeding decisions.  It is our belief that distinct breeds of alpacas will likely emerge as individual breeders put selective pressure on their herds in the pursuit of economically valuable traits.  In time we may well see multiple breeds of alpacas emerge, similar to what we observe in other types of livestock.

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"He hunted hard again and found something for 'Mrs. Cricket from her friends in the White House,'--a fine alpaca dress..."

- Robert Anderson
Half-Past Seven Stories
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