The idea of crossbreeding suris with huacayas is controversial. The concept
creates cognitive dissonance. Many, maybe most of you, may not like the ideas
presented here. Don Julio Barreda, a man I greatly respect, has made clear
that, in his opinion, the suri breed should not be crossbred with huacayas. In
the past, a huacaya with a suri parent in its pedigree has been less valuable
than a similar animal without a suri parent. These crosses were considered
impure or intermediate.
But what if the suri gene is dominant and found at a single location on the
alpacas DNA map. What if suris and huacayas from crossbred parents were as pure
as any other alpaca? The ramifications are significant. It would mean that the
suri herd could be multiplied at will simply by transferring the gene for suri
phenotype to cria of huacaya females. Colored suris could be created by design.
The suri breed, as a whole, would benefit from the hybrid vigor generated when
two separate breeds are mated. There would no longer be any fear of a shortage
of suri genetics.
There is sound scientific evidence that the suri gene is dominant. There is
also ample anecdotal evidence from several suri breeders in Australia that
supports the proposition that the suri gene is dominant. The importance of this
discovery should not be ignored.
THE SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH
Dr. Raul Ponzini of the South Australian Research and Development Institute
used Mendelís classic theory of dominance to postulate that the suri gene was
completely dominant over the huacaya gene and that it was simply inherited. He
reported the following results in the scientific paper entitled Phenotypes
Resulting From Huacaya by Huacaya, Suri by Huacaya, and Suri by Suri Alpaca
Data on 145 Huacaya sire by Huacaya dam, 24 Suri sire by Huacaya dam and 35
Suri sire by Suri dam mating records (and their corresponding progeny) were
used to determine the mode of inheritance of the Huacaya and Suri feature in
alpacas. The results indicated control by a single gene (or by a haplotype),
and dominance of the allele responsible for the Suri type (AIFs) over that
responsible for the Huacaya type (AIFh). (For the purposes of our discussion
(AIFs) = (SS) and (AIFh) = (ss)).
It is important to understand that the basis for the determination that the
cria from these matings were suri was the phenotype of their fiber. Huacaya
crias have a voluminous crimped fleece that grows perpendicular to the skin
like merino sheep wool. Suri fleece is spiral locked, compact, and hangs in
long ringlets from the skin, much like an angora goat. Suri fleece is also
characterized by high luster. The experiments reported here were based
exclusively on fleece phenotype, which is also how breeders distinguish a suri
from a huacaya.
Ponzini discusses similar studies reported by Nova and Wilson (1992) and Flint
(1996). In the Nova and Wilson study all huacaya by huacaya breedings produced
huacaya offspring, which was consistent with Ponziniís conclusion that huacaya
were the result of double recessive gene pairs (ss) at a single location on the
DNA. Flintís study reported that out of 8,446 huacaya by huacaya matings there
were twelve suri offspring. Please note that if huacaya by huacaya matings
produce suris, Ponziniís theory that the suri gene is dominant at a single
location would be false.
Follow up investigations of the Flint observations found that suri males were
present at each property which reported huacaya by huacaya matings producing
suri offspring. In several of these instances, blood typing established that a
suri male was indeed the sire. Unfortunately, not all breeders allowed the
crias in question to be bloodtyped. Ponzini ended the discussion of his
findings with the following statement.
We conclude that our results are consistent with the postulated mode of
inheritance (a single gene and two alleles, AIFs dominant over AIFh). The model
was chosen because it is the simplest possible one. Note, however, that the
same results could be obtained if the trait were not controlled by a single
gene, but by a group of very closely linked genes (haplotype) that were
inherited together. Further analyses of data should contribute to a greater
understanding of the genetic mechanisms involved in the expression of the
huacaya and suri phenotypes.
The practical effect of Ponziniís theory is that suri offspring will be
produced 100% of the time if a homozygous suri male (SS) is mated to a huacaya
female (ss). A heterozygous suri male (Ss) will produce 50% suri cria and 50%
huacaya cria when mated to a huacaya female (ss). Mating two heterozygous suris
(Ss) will produce 75% suri and 25% huacaya. In all instances, the huacaya
produced from these matings will be 100% homozygous huacaya (ss).
THE CONVENTIONAL WISDOM
If Ponziniís theory is true, why is it the conventional wisdom, particularly in
South America, that the huacaya is the dominant breed or gene? This
misconception probably has more to do with gene frequency than dominance. There
are more huacaya than suri. Mother Nature also plays a role and suris have been
selected against environmentally. There is higher mortality for suri cria than
huacaya cria at higher, harsher, colder elevations in the altiplano. Suris
prosper at lower elevations in milder conditions. Few, if any, alpacas are
grazed below 9,000 feet above sea level in Peru, where the majority of the
worldís suris reside.
In Peru, suris at the larger co-ops are often run separately. At Rural
Allianza, for instance, almost all of their suris are bred at Antacalla near
Nunoa. Peruvian breeders simply may not have noticed suri dominance. In the
United States, most breeders have avoided cross breeding suris with huacaya. In
Australia, several breeders have been concentrating on crossing suri with
huacaya and their results substantiate Ponziniís single gene dominance theory.
THE GENETICS OF SURI GENE DOMINANCE
Gregor Mendel, the father of modern genetic science, was a pea breeder. He
found that inheritance was essentially the algebra of one-half. He postulated
that dominance, not mutation, explained progeny with varying phenotypes from
the same parents.
Mendel discovered that the way a gene expresses itself at a locus depends on
the other gene present at the same locus. His pea plants were either tall or
extremely short. He called the short variety dwarfs. The dwarf plants were (tt)
genotype and the tall plants were either (TT) or (Tt). The gene for shortness
(t) only produced a dwarf when paired with another (t) gene. Yet when the same
(t) allele was paired with a tall (T) allele, the plant was not intermediate in
size as you might expect. It was just as tall as the (TT) plants -- the (t)
allele appeared to have no effect at all. Today we say that the (T) allele is
dominant and the (t) allele is recessive.
Dominant alleles or genes are usually represented by an uppercase letter and
recessive alleles by a lowercase letter. For instance, at the (A) locus, the
(AA) genotype is called the homozygous dominant genotype, the (Aa) genotype is
the heterozygous genotype, and the (aa) genotype is the homozygous recessive
genotype. The letter or letter combination chosen to represent a locus is
usually an abbreviation related to the characteristics of the dominant gene.
That is why Mendel chose (T) for tall. Please remember, for the purpose of this
discussion, the suri gene will be referred to as big (S) and the huacaya gene a
In Mendelís peas, the mode of gene expression at the (T) locus was complete
dominance. This is the classic form of dominance in which the expression of the
heterozygous genotype is no different from the expression of the homozygous
genotype having two dominant genes. (Tt) heterozygotes and (TT) homozygotes
were equally tall; phenotypically they were undistinguishable form each other.
Complete dominance is common in a number of simply-inherited animal traits.
An example of complete dominance in cattle is the polled trait, the (P) allele
for polled is completely dominant over the recessive (p) allele for horned.
Another example is the Angus beef cattle which can be either red or black, but
the (B) allele for black is completely dominant over the b allele for red.
Single gene, single location dominance of the suri gene is analogous to the
dominance of the (P) gene for polledness. A polled, or hornless, bull who is
homozygous for the polledness gene will produce calves with no horns from
mothers with horns, every time.
Why is the phenomenon of dominance important to animal breeders? The first
reason relates to simply-inherited traits like the ones Mendel studied in his
peas. For these traits, dominance explains why we get various phenotypes in
particular proportions when we make specific matings. Understanding the nature
of dominance in these situations allows us to predict the outcomes of matings.
The second reason involves polygenic traits or traits affected by many genes
with no single gene having dominance. Polygenic traits allow for the expression
of hybrid vigor. The current scientific evidence strongly suggests that the
suri gene is a simply inherited, completely dominant trait.
SIMPLY-INHERITED AND POLYGENIC TRAITS
Most economic traits in animals are polygenic in nature. Some traits, however,
are simply-inherited. Because simply-inherited traits are influenced by only a
few genes, selection for these traits is different from selection for polygenic
traits. With simply-inherited traits, breeders do not deal with breeding values
and their predictions, or even with concepts like heritability (see Pure Blood,
Part II). In the case of selecting for the suri gene, the breeder would be
interested in whether the alpaca was a suri or a huacaya and, if a suri,
whether it was homozygous.
There are two common secondary characteristics of simply-inherited traits.
First, phenotypes for these traits tend to be "either/or," they are categorical
in nature. An Angus is either red or black and a cow is either horned or
polled. Second, simply-inherited traits are affected very little by
environment. A polled cow that spends a lot of time in the sun will not grow
In contrast, polygenic traits are affected by many genes, and no single gene
has an overriding influence. Examples of polygenic traits include fleece
quality, growth rate, milk production, and time to run a given distance.
Geneticists know very little about the specific genes affecting these traits
and can only conclude that there are many of them.
Phenotypes for polygenic traits are usually described by numbers. Breeders
speak of 500-lb weaning weights in cattle, 30,000-lb lactation yields in dairy
cows, 20-second times in the quarter mile for quarterhorses, and 16 micron
fleeces for alpacas. Instead of being "either/or" in nature or falling into a
few distinct categories as phenotypes for simply-inherited traits do,
phenotypes for polygenic traits are typically quantitative or continuous in
their expression. Polygenic traits are clearly affected by the environment. If
cows, pigs, sheep, and alpacas are fed less, they grow more slowly and produce
less milk, meat, or fiber. If horses are not well trained, they do not run as
Most, if not all, fleece characteristics are thought to be the result of
polygenic inheritance. Density, fineness, crimp, staple length, luster, and
sheen are all influenced by multiple alleles or genes. But the suri gene is
most likely a simply inherited trait and it determines only the progenyís suri
phenotype, which is defined by its fleece style.
CROSSBREEDING SURIS WITH HUACAYA
Crossbreeding is the mating of two animals which are both purebred but belong
to different breeds. Crossbreeding, like any other form of outbreeding, tends
to lower the breeding value of the progeny by making them more heterozygous and
make selection among the crossbred individuals less effective. When crossbreds
are used for breeding purposes, their offspring are more variable than the
crossbreds themselves. Often the quality of the progeny of crossbreds is
distinctly skewed. A few exceed the average of the purebred parents, but many
are below average.
Typically, a cattle or sheep producer will crossbreed pure strains of cattle or
sheep to produce a commercial market animal. An alpaca cross breeding program
would be more similar to the traditional grading up programs used in the
purebred cattle industry. Grading up is the cheapest, most efficient way of
changing the population of a certain breed of animal into another breed of
animal, in this case, huacaya to suri.
Suris that will breed true can be rapidly created from suri/huacaya crosses by
simply following a strategy of repeated back crosses. This would mean always
breeding the female product of suri/huacaya crosses back to a suri male.
Backcrossing is the practice of mating a crossbred animal back to one of the
purebred parents of the breed which were initially used in the cross. It is a
term commonly used in genetic studies but not widely used by breeders.
When repeated backcrossing is used to import a specific allele, such as the
suri gene, the population that lacks the allele, in this case the huacaya, is
crossed with a male which possesses the allele, in this case a suri male. The
successive generations of female offspring would be backcrossed to homozygous
suri males. After a number of generations, almost all of the genes in the
population will trace back to the suri and the offspring will be homozygous for
the suri gene. At this point, further backcrossing is no longer needed, and
matings can be made within the new population.
THE PUNNETT SQUARE PICTURES PURITY
Websterís dictionary defines a conundrum as: a riddle whose answer is or
involves a pun. The answer to the riddle of crossbreeding suris and huacayas
involves a Punnett Square. To understand how, we must first go through some
basic genetics. Please do not be put off by the technical nature of the
following description. The answer will become clear.
When a male is successfully mated to a female, sperm and egg unite, and an
embryo is formed. In geneticists jargon, they say that gametes from the sire
and dam combine to form a zygote. Zygotes are offspring. They have the normal
number of genes and chromosomes, half from the gamete contributed by the sire,
and half from the gamete contributed by the dam. The process that determines
which egg matures and which sperm succeeds in fertilizing the egg is called
gamete selection. The selection of gametes is random.
A commonly used device for determining the possible offspring obtainable from
the mating of any two parental genotypes is the Punnett square. A Punnett
square is a two-dimensional grid. Along the top of the grid are listed the
possible gametes from one parent, and along the left side are listed the
possible gametes from the other parent. Inside the cells of the grid are the
progeny that are possible from the mating. They are obtained by simply
combining the gametes that head each row and column of the square.
By using the Punnett Square, it is possible to determine the probability of any
particular offspring genotype occurring by noting the frequency of the cells
that contain that genotype. And if you know what phenotype is associated with
each genotype -- as is the case with the suri or huacaya -- you can also
determine the expected proportions of offspring phenotypes and, in this case,
what proportion will be homozygous for the suri gene (SS).
F-1 (FIRST GENERATION). Consider how this process would work
beginning with a purebred or homozygous suri male (SS) and a purebred
homozygous huacaya dam (ss).
All the crias resulting from this mating would be heterozygous Ss, and because
the suri allele (S) is dominant, they would all be suris.
BC-1 (FIRST BACKCROSS GENERATION). In the BC-1 generation, the
heterozygous (Ss) first generation suris, F-1, would be backcrossed to a
homozygous (SS) male, they would produce progeny which were 100% Suri phenotype
with 50% heterozygous and 50% homozygous suri genotype.
In the BC-2 generation the BC-1 suris, half of which are homozygous and half
which are heterozygous, would be backcrossed to homozygous suri sires, they
would produce progeny that were 100% suri phenotypes and the cria would be 75%
homozygous suri genotype.
Continuing on, if suri females from the second backcross (BC-2) generation were
backcrossed again to homozygous suri sires, creating a BC-3 generation, they
would produce 100% suri phenotype with 87.5% of the offspring homozygous for
the suri gene. Backcrossing and selection for the suri allele could continue
for another generation when the proportion of pure or dominant suri in the
population would be sufficiently high, say 15/16 or 93.75%, for these suris to
be mated among themselves. They would generally breed true to produce
predominantly suri progeny.
Because the huacaya allele would still be present in the new suri population,
as it is in the current population, breeders of suris should continue to cull
sires which produced huacaya offspring from suri x suri matings. Among suri
breeders, proven homozygous suri sires would be especially desirable because
they would not produce huacaya offspring.
The use of homozygous males in an alpaca crossbreeding or grading up program is
the key to rapidly creating suris that will breed true. The use of heterozygous
males (Ss) would retard the process by increasing the frequency of the
recessive huacaya genes (s).
How do we determine whether a suri male is homozygous or heterozygous? There
are currently no genetic tests available which will make this determination,
although there may be in the future. The solution, though, is relatively
simple. Breed a suri male to huacaya females. If he sires any huacaya crias, he
Suri males which are bred from many generations of suri parents have a higher
likelihood of being homozygous. F1 crossbred suris from huacaya dams will
automatically be heterozygous. Mathematically, any suri male is likely to be
homozygous if he produces six suri crias from six huacaya matings. At eleven
matings and eleven suri offspring, it is better than a 95% probability that a
male is homozygous (SS) for the suri gene. After twenty successful
combinations, it is virtually certain that the male will always breed true.
Hybrid vigor is defined as an increase in the performance of hybrids over that
of purebreds, most noticeably in traits like fertility or survivability. Hybrid
vigor is not caused by the presence of particular genes in an individual, but
the presence of particular gene combinations. While the purpose of selection is
to increase the proportion of favorable genes in future generations of a
population, the purpose of mating for hybrid vigor is to increase the
proportion of favorable gene combinations in a population.
Mating a Charolais to an Angus is an example of crossbreeding which produces
hybrid vigor. Charolais are large French cattle known for fast growth and heavy
muscling. Angus are smaller British cattle known for their maternal ability.
Their crossbred offspring benefit from the hybrid vigor of having both kinds of
The more unrelated two breeds or lines are, the greater the hybrid vigor
expected in crosses between them. Two individuals from closely related
populations are likely to be homozygous at many of the same loci. When these
individuals are mated, their offspring are often homozygous at those loci.
Their offspring are not particularly heterozygous, and little hybrid vigor is
observed. In contrast, if two individuals from unrelated populations, such as
the suri and huacaya are mated, they will not be homozygous at many loci. For
example, if one individualís genotype at the (B) locus is (BB), and the other
individualís genotype is (bb), when these individuals are mated their offspring
are heterozygous (Bb), and hybrid vigor results. This is especially important
when you consider that most dominant genes are expressed as positive
Hybrid vigor is a powerful genetic tool. The hybrid vigor obtained by
crossbreeding huacayas and suris will most likely create some pleasant genetic
surprises. For instance, the huacaya cria produced could have more lustrous
fleeces and suri could regain their full range of color. There may also be
other favorable gene combinations that are not readily apparent.
THE AUSTRALIAN EXPERIMENT
The science of genetics is often abstract and, at first blush, does not always
reveal its ultimate wisdom. I have followed the suri/huacaya cross issue for
years. Intuitively I resisted the idea of crossbreeding. My resistance was
based on the misconception that the product of suri/huacaya mating would be an
inferior or intermediate cria that would not exhibit the finest qualities of
To see the practical results of a theory, on the ground, is the ultimate proof.
Sandi Keene, Roger Haldane, Wendy Billington, Paul Carney, and Jill Short are
Australians who have demonstrated, in their herds, the proof of Ponziniís suri
gene dominance theory. A visit to their ranches makes a convincing case for
Sandi Keane has been breeding suris since 1995. She was one of the first
Australians to own suris, particularly colored ones. Sandi began crossbreeding
before Ponziniís study. Her original goal, interestingly enough, was to add
luster to huacaya fleeces. She also believed that she might reduce medulation
in the huacaya cria she expected to create. Her first matings produced about
50% huacaya and 50% suri cria. The huacaya cria were superior specimens. The
suri male she was using was obviously heterozygous, or (Ss), for the suri gene.
The suri cria she initially produced were of medium to poor quality.
Sandi then began to use a Bolivian suri sire, Byron, she had acquired from
Billy Borhdt. Byron was a phenotypically superior, white male with dense,
penciled locks from head to toe. Surprise, Lord Byron produced only suri cria.
His progeny were silver grey, black, red, white, and multi-colored -- over
twenty five to date, no huacayas. Byron is obviously homozygous (SS) for the
Sandi also used a black suri male named Silquestra, but he was obviously
heterozygous (Ss) and produced fifty percent suri and fifty percent huacaya.
From the cria he has sired to date, he has produced two silvers and eight
blacks, all from black females. Several of the black suri cria were drop dead
Roger Haldane is a legend in Australia. He almost single handedly created the
Australian alpaca industry by organizing the first major import of alpaca into
Australia. He has raised prize winning fine wool merino sheep and angora goats.
The alpacas bred from Rogerís Purrembette stock have dominated the Australian
show ring for years. Roger has recently imported milking buffalo into Australia
from Italy and Bulgaria. His mozzarella cheese made from the water buffalo milk
is currently served on Quantas airlines and in most of Australiaís fine
restaurants. Roger and his brother, Clyde, selected the first Peruvian alpaca
imports into the U.S. and Roger is currently crossbreeding suri males with
Why are you crossbreeding, I asked? "You can put the entire suri clip in one
bag and sell it all for the same high price," replied Roger. "I have bred one
suri male to over sixty huacaya females and I have not had one huacaya cria
yet. The crosses are about 25% superior, 40% medium, and 35% lesser quality."
Roger added that he expected the quality of the cria from the F1 generation to
increase considerably when they are backcrossed to suri males. The suris at
Haldaneís Purrembette Farms range in color from silver to white and from fawn
to dark chocolate. The quality of the huacaya females Roger is using is very
poor, but his suri males are exceptional. One of the crossbred offspring was a
beautiful, lustrous, silver grey suri male, which would probably bring $100,000
at auction in the United States.
Paul Carney, another Australian alpaca breeder, made the following comments
about crossbreeding suris with huacayas in the Winter 1997 issue of the
Australian magazine Town and Country Farmer.
"... Before we began this project the information available from South America
did not confirm any simple mode of inheritance so that we were surprised when
our crossings produced very large numbers of suri."
"Our next surprise was that the suri outcome of a huacaya suri cross was
indistinguishable from so called pure suri from South America and the huacaya
outcome of such a cross was indistinguishable from huacaya, there being no
evidence of intermediate types."
"Our findings were no different from that observed over a range of farms. The
genes responsible for the suri or huacaya types appear to be very closely
related. The suri strain is dominant, in other words, where the suri gene and
the huacaya gene are present in the same animal, then the animal will be
phenotypically, that is to say in every outward appearance, a suri..."
"Some people are bound to ask how we can be so certain about this outcome. The
answer is that we canít be absolutely certain, but there has been a careful
statistical analysis which indicates very high levels of probability for these
outcomes and which is consistent with other data ..."
"As to the future, I think that depends very much on the kind of fibre which
has the best market. My own experience has been that I have been able to
produce not only suris, but also better huacaya by working in this way."
"Since the suris were a rare group of animals it is possible that other genetic
attributes locked up in that group will make a significant difference in ways
other than the straight forward suri/huacaya difference. There may, for
example, be some genes for fineness and lustre restricted to the suri group."
Wendy Billington was also one of the first Australian suri breeders. I met
Wendy in Charlevoix, Michigan at the 1993 Peruvian Legacy Sale. She purchased
her first suris through me, after inquiring "what are those beautiful
creatures?" Today, Wendy has one of the foremost suri breeding studs farms in
Australia, where her animals regularly win grand championships. She made the
following comments about crossbreeding suris in the July 1998, Australian, Suri
Club News .
"The main reason why we believe in cross breeding is to increase the number of
Suri females in Australia, particularly the coloureds. Coloured Suris are
extremely rare in Peru and are impossible to import due to strict quotas and
tough screening standards (coloureds are less likely to pass the fleece
criteria). (Ed. there are a small number of coloured Suris available in the USA
but prices are very high, averaging around $A60,000 and another $10,000 to
import it to Australia!). However, we caution those breeders interested in
cross breeding that the first cross does not always deliver the lustre, staple
length or lock architecture of the true Suri so it is important to return the
female to superior Suri males with a pure line in their background. We do not
regard males from the first cross to have much value as herd sires as their
genetic background would be unreliable. Furthermore, it must be remembered that
the one elite quality that Suri has is the drape, lustre and silkiness of the
fibre. This must always be the optimum in breeding up from cross breeding.
Otherwise, you will have fibre of little value.
"We donít advocate cross breeding randomly without consideration given to the
female in question. Perhaps it would be best to start with a loosely fleeced
huacaya which has little value in your herd. Try to find a dominant Suri sire
to ensure your greatest chance of producing Suri progeny. Experiment cautiously
and get some advice from experienced Suri breeders -- particularly those who
have been experimenting with cross breeding."
Jill Short owns suris and she manages suris for Alan Hamilton, who is the two
time past president of the Australian Alpaca Association. Jill also crossbreeds
suris and huacayas. When I asked her why crossbreeding was controversial in
Australia, she gave the following explanation:
Breeders often have an emotional response and donít really understand how it
Some people are afraid of losing the pure suri line.
The market place is very interested in crosses here in Australia.
All the points above would probably hold true in the United States. The main
difference between the U.S. and Australia is there are far more suri in the
United States. Quality, rather than quantity, would most likely be a larger
issue in North America.
Raul Ponziniís study made me rethink the entire question of crossbreeding. A
review of genetics texts lead to the conclusion that adding hybrid vigor,
expanding the gene pool, and increasing selection variability are all
additional benefits to be gained from crossbreeding suri and huacaya. I also
came to realize that crias from crosses need not be inferior.
I judged an alpaca show on a recent trip to Australia. The suri I gave best in
show was a cross. I did not know that this was the case until I was talking
with the owner after the show. The suri was from a high quality Peruvian
Most alpaca crossbreeding has been done using high quality suri males and low
quality colored huacaya females. This combination produces a higher percentage
of lower quality suris than would normally occur in suri to suri matings. This
does not necessarily have to be the case.
When I purchased my first dozen Peruvian females in 1993 my son, Charlie, chose
as his personal alpaca, and college tuition investment vehicle, one of the
nicer females in the lot. He named her Peggy after his grandmother. She was
pregnant when we bought her, the mating having taken place in Peru before she
was shipped. Charlie and I delivered Peggyís first cria and amidst all the
excitement Charlie stopped, became quiet, and said, "Dad, that baby is a suri."
He was right.
We named the cria Charlieís Angel. When she was six months old we began showing
her. She never lost, winning the blue ribbon at AOBAís national show in Estes
Park, Colorado. The next year she was pregnant, so we sheared her and took the
fleece to many fleece competitions and won more blues. I began thinking about
"Angel" as I researched genetics texts for crossbreeding information.
In theory, a cria from a huacaya dam and a suri sire could inherit the
phenotype from the male simply, and density, fineness, and staple length genes
from the dam polygenically. This would mean that the higher the quality of the
huacaya dam, the higher the quality of the suri cria. The sire, of course,
would also exert considerable influence on the quality of the cria and hybrid
vigor could play a part.
Common sense says that a polygenic trait like density could be transferred from
a huacaya dam to a suri cria. Density is largely a matter of the number of
fiber follicles per square inch of skin. If both the sire and dam have high
follicle counts, it should follow that the cria would likely be dense, just
like the parents. Another polygenic character, like fineness, could easily be
transferred independent of the simply inherited suri gene. Bottom line, there
is no apparent genetic reason that suri crosses need to be of any less quality
than cria from suri x suri breedings.
RECLAIMING COLOR FOR SURIS
Crossbreeding suri males with colored huacaya females would allow breeders to
quickly recover color diversity for suris. Color has a distinct impact on the
price of breeding stock and fleece. Suri breeders currently have to pay a large
price premium to acquire color. By understanding the principals of
crossbreeding, this no longer needs to be the case. Herds of suris in every
color are only a generation away.
The addition of a broad range of color to the suri herd at affordable prices
would significantly broaden the market for suri breeding stock. The
availability of rare colored suri fleeces could not help but increase the
attractiveness and price of the fiber to end users.
THE ECONOMIC SIGNIFICANCE OF CROSSBREEDING SURI AND HUACAYA
Think for a moment about owning a source of production that could provide
product to two markets, each of which would pay a different price. You would
likely sell to the highest bidder, always taking advantage of the particular
market with the highest price structure. The alpaca fleece market has a dual
price structure -- huacaya and suri. The market for breeding stock is also two
tiered. Today, for instance, black or silver suris sell for more than black or
silver huacayas. Inexpensive, older, colored huacaya females are the perfect
vehicle for creating more valuable colored suris.
A huacaya breeder who understands crossbreeding needs to make few, if any,
adjustments to channel his production into the most lucrative market, whether
it be fiber or breeding stock. The breeder simply chooses a different male to
join with his females. A "purebred" suri breeder could capitalize on
crossbreeding by supplying homozygous suri males and stud services.
Derek Michell of Michell & Co, Cia in Arequipa, Peru, has been buying suri
fleece for years. Today, he pays almost two and one-half times more for suri
than huacaya in the altiplano. This has been the case for several years.
Recently Derek has noticed a slight increase in the availability of suri
fleece. He suspects this could be the breeders response to the price structure.
Derek also speculates that the American importersí willingness to pay higher
prices for colored suris may have prompted breeders to breed for suris out of
The economic implication of crossbreeding for the Quechua herders is
significant. An Indian breeder who used a homozygous suri (SS) male could
change the percentage of his fleece production from 100% huacaya to, say, a
50/50 split in a few short years. This change, assuming the two and one-half to
one pricing disparity held, would increase his gross income by one hundred and
seventy-five percent. No small matter in the highlands of Peru, where poverty
The future for crossbreeding suris with huacayas should be interesting and, as
I mentioned at the beginning of this article, it will probably be
controversial. Some breeders will reject the concept in the name of pure blood,
others will embrace the idea and breed for pure money. The Alpaca Registry will
be of great benefit in this pursuit due to its system of identifying phenotypes
and blood typing. Whatever happens, we will always learn more about alpaca
breeding if we experiment than if we do not. The crossbreeding conundrum can be
solved with a little help from the Punnett Square.
Reproduced with permission from:
Alpaca Breeding Farm: Northwest Alpacas: raising suri and huacaya alpacas for sale, alpaca investment, and alpaca business plans for alpaca breeders and owners worldwide. Find more useful information at the Alpaca Library.
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