Thursday, June 24, 2010


We had many of our alpaca's fiber tested by Alpaca Stat, giving us a very detailed histogram report. Most testing facilities only test the butt end of the fiber, giving one number for the micron. The problem is, the micron can change over time, all throughout the year. The test we used tests the entire length of the fiber. This way you can see how different feeding methods affected their fiber, how their health may have had an impact, and anything else that happened over the last year. We have several animals that moved to our farm this year (Cafe, Navigator, Greyt). We could see when they moved to our farm and how that affected their fiber stats. We could see on our young ones what happened at weaning (their micron tends to climb when they are fed rich mother's milk, then the micron goes down when they are weaned). There are several things that the testing studies. I admit right up front that I am by no means an expert in this area. So I will keep this all very simple. J has done much more research and understands it far better than I (this is why he has more say in breeding decisions, and any new animal we acquire). The numbers that the report gives are: micron (sometimes abbreviated as AFD), standard deviation (SD), coefficient variance(CV), comfort factor (CF), length of the fiber (how much staple length the animal grew in a year), minimum micron and maximum micron.

The purpose of knowing this information is to make good breeding decisions. If you have a female who has a higher micron, you need to make sure to breed her to a male who is very fine. Fineness can be very hard to feel. We were surprised at the testing results of some of our animals, and it did affect our breeding decisions for this year. Or if you have an animal with low micron, but higher SD, breed them to a companion that brings a lower SD into the mix. Sure either trait could be carried on in the offspring, but if both of the pair have a high SD, the offspring is sure to have a high one.

Another good reason to know this information, is that we are breeding towards a goal. Our goal is to breed animals with incredible fiber. What does that mean? We set goals for where we want our fiber stats to be: for micron, we are looking for under 20 (or low 20's for darker animals), for SD, we are aiming for under 4, and for comfort factor, we want in the 90+%. CV is harder for me to quantify. My understanding is that a CV near the same number as the micron, will give the best handle to the fiber. As a spinner, I want fiber that is soft with a nice handle (feel).

Here is the national average:

National Statistics
AFD of National Herd
2007: 24.58
2008: 23.93
2009: 23.55
SD of National Herd
2007: 6.77
2008: 6.45
2009: 6.34

As you can see, our goals are more stringent than the national average. We want superior fleece. And as the national average gets better, we want to be ahead of that. We are constantly aiming to improve the alpaca's fiber with each generation.

The animal on our farm who best meets our fiber goals is Lightning! I admit, we've debated trading Lightning. Mostly this is because we have his mother, and because I'm not big on white alpacas. But, he has the fleece characteristics that we are breeding for. We can breed him to our darker colored females, and create the next generation of superior colored fleece animals.

Lighting's histogram:
Micron: 19.42
SD: 3.3
CV: 17.02
CF: 99.35%
These stats put him in the top 10% for white alpaca males his age (according to the EABS Fiber Standards for Sires, this is a PDF file).

Georgio also meets our goals:
Micron: 20.75
SD: 3.83
CV: 18.46
CF: 97.73%
Georgio is also in the top 10% for males his age/color.

The next most impressive histogram came from Cavalier:
Micron: 18.25
SD: 4.35
CV: 23.86
CF: 98.72%
Cav's report puts him in the best 25% for his age/color.

A close fourth is Rosco:
Micron: 18.54
SD: 4.4
CV: 23.73
CF: 98.45%

As you can see, the animals aren't perfect. Rosco and Cav's SD and CV is a bit higher than our goals aim for. But this is useful information when choosing breeding partners. I wouldn't breed Rosco to Cav, knowing this information. With each generation, we get closer and closer to our goals. With good breeding choices, we can get an offspring from Rosco that does meet our fiber breeding goals.

As for males, they say only the top 1/3 of males should ever be used as herd sires. With our males in top 10% and top 25%, they make this cut. While I don't have him listed above, Greyt also makes the herd sire cut. His numbers are higher than Lightning or Cavalier or Georgio, but he is also a much darker color. According to the EABS Fiber Standards for Sires (PDF file from Elite Alpaca Breeding System), for each shade darker than white, you can add one number. For example, if the cut off for a white male X years old is 18 microns, it would be 19 microns for fawn, 20 for brown, 21 for grey and 22 for black. The chart states, "The figures are for white huacaya males with coloured animals moving 1 micron and one percent for each color away from white through fawn, brown, grey to black." So while Greyt's numbers don't sound as impressive, given his dark color, he does have amazing fleece. The chart is broken down by age range, and by what top % the male meets (best 2.5%, best 5%, best 10%, and best 25%).

I would say there were some results that we were surprised at. I didn't realize Cavalier is as fine as he is. We knew Rosco was fine, but had no idea Cav's micron was so similar to her's. We knew Lightning had incredible fiber, we had his fiber tested last year. But it was great to see how well his fiber has held up over the last year. We had some disappointments too. Getting a report like this makes one rethink things a bit. There were things I thought to be true, that the report proves isn't so. Even things that judges said to us about our animals, that didn't pan out in the testing results. Like animals I thought we fine, but their micron is a lot higher than I would have predicted. While it is frustrating to feel like this, to think I don't know as much as I thought I did, it also shows me how important it is to test the fiber so that we do know for sure. This way we are making the best breeding decisions to reach our goals.

Since we got the histogram reports, I updated my ETSY shop. I want to make sure when people purchase fiber from us, that they know what they are getting. There were some animals that aren't as good as we thought, and there are some that are nicer than we thought. We want the price of their fiber to reflect the quality purchased. I want people to feel that they got their money worth.

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