Glenhope is strongly focused on breeding well conformed huacayas that grow silky soft, long and deeply crimped fibre. We aim to breed fleeces that retain fineness with low primary fibres (guard hair). The results we are currently seeing are due to careful selection and use of the objective scientific tools of the SRS® breeding system we have employed since 2004. This breeding system developed by Dr Jim Watts has been tested and proven with merino sheep and has been embraced by an ever increasing number of Australian and overseas alpaca breeders. This scientific approach to breeding removes the guesswork as it provides measurable outcomes of genetic and fibre traits. Animals are classed and evaluated on a range of valued fleece characteristics. The males used in our breeding programme are skin tested and have reached a standard to be placed on the national list of recommended males.
The constitution and frame is equally important in the selection of our animals to genetically improve the feed conversion efficiency and fibre output of our stock. Selection of early maturing males with high fecundity is a trait we value as this has been shown in other species to have a direct effect on the fertility of females.
Fleeced animals such as alpacas, sheep and goats have both primary and secondary fibres. The breeding aim in alpacas is to reduce the diameter of the primary fibre to that of secondary fibres, if not lower. In order to achieve this it is necessary to increase the density of the fibres on the alpaca to over 85 fibres per square mm and reduce the diameter primary fibres to under 17 microns and secondary fibres below 20 microns. The genes required to reduce the primary fibre is different to the secondary fibre so when direct selection is placed on the primary fibre the response is very positive as primary fibre diameter is highly heritable. At the same time the aim is to increase the length of the fibre. By selecting for high fibre diameter and length higher fleece weights and better quality wools are produced.
Other significant criteria we use to produce uniformity in our herd are through visual assessment of the fleece using specific fleece markers and notation, conformation and progeny assessment. The fleece marker are not only density and length but also softness, lustre, crimp amplitude and crimp frequency. Softness results from long smooth fibres which is necessary along with crimp for elasticity in the fibre which is critical for producing high quality products. Lustre results from well aligned fibres as they emerge from the skin. Conformation qualities include good sized animals that are robust and have broad chests and rumps. Finally progeny assessment is critical to ensure the best mating combinations are put into place given the long gestation and to ensure ongoing progress in herd development.
Alpacas have presented us with a unique business as well as a wonderful and fulfilling lifestyle. Our fascination and passion for these animals remains strong. We are committed to a breeding programme to accelerate the improvement of our herd and to assist other breeders achieve their goals through using the SRS® breeding system. The commitment to the development of quality fleece that resembles the properties of cashmere will pay off for the industry as alpacas are capable of producing a much larger quantity of this type of fleece.