The Suri Gene Supreme A Crossbreeding Conundrum
Article by Mike Safley,
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
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 Mendel's 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 Crossing.
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 Ponzini's
conclusion that huacaya were the result of double recessive gene pairs
(ss) at a single location on the DNA. Flint's 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, Ponzini's 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 Ponzini's 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
THE CONVENTIONAL WISDOM
If Ponzini's 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 world's 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 Ponzini's 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 small (s).
In Mendel's 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
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 horns.
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 fast.
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
progeny's 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
THE PUNNETT SQUARE PICTURES PURITY
Webster's 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
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
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 is heterozygous.
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 parents.
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 individual's genotype at the
(B) locus is (BB), and the other individual's 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 characteristics.
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
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 either breed.
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 Ponzini's suri gene dominance theory. A visit to their ranches
makes a convincing case for crossbreeding.
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 Ponzini's 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 suri gene.
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 gorgeous.
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 Roger's 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 Australia's 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 huacaya
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 Haldane's 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
"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 can't 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
"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
"We don't 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
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 don't really
understand how it all works.
Some people are afraid of losing the pure suri line.
The market place is very interested in crosses here in
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 Ponzini's 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
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 huacaya parent.
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 Peggy's
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 Charlie's Angel. When she was six months old we began
showing her. She never lost, winning the blue ribbon at AOBA's 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
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
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
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
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
importers' willingness to pay higher prices for colored suris may have
prompted breeders to breed for suris out of colored huacayas.
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 prevails.
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