On the occasion of our spring show in May, 2016 there were many discussions about our needs, our dissatisfactions and our expectations in relation to our alpaca industry, and questioning as to how to find the best answers for all those who are posing these questions.

Our New Zealand judge, Nic Cooper gave us some very interesting insights into the problem as he has « been through all that » in his own country and has observed other countries and the various stages they have passed through in order to find a stable and efficient way to work.

Here, he shares with us his thoughts on the situation in France and the pathways open to us. 

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REGISTRIES and ASSOCIATIONS

 

These two topics have been amongst the most controversial in the alpaca world over the past 25 years.    The topics still rumble away in the established Western countries (USA, Australia and NZ) largely because

  • Not everyone has the same view about them
  • Some people are scared of them (will my alpacas do well?)
  • Some people want to benefit from them (make sure my alpacas do well!)
  • Nowhere has actually got the issues right.

From my vast experience with these topics over 25 + years, and having been in debate on them for the whole of that time I would like to share some views with the alpaca breeders of France.

ASSOCIATIONS

Pretty well all established Associations around the world started as joint llama and alpaca associations.   At some point in the development of the alpaca part of the industry the alpaca breeders decided to split from the joint association.

Why?   There are several answers but they all come down to the fact that llamas and alpacas – whilst related -  are very different in terms of their function and for that reason are purchased by different types of people.

Llamas are – basically – (and I know I will annoy some llama owners) pets.  They carry things for people and are used therapeutically.  I know you can get fibre from llamas.  But it is not what they have been bred for and (sorry) it is not very good.    Llamas have never been an “investment” in the way alpacas have been sold.  Llamas have never had a strong stud stock profile (very high priced, volatile and hyped).  Llama people are happy just having llamas, and meet and talk about them. 

Whereas after having spent big $$ buying or importing quality alpacas the hyped-up owners want to make a financial return out of them rather rapidly.  They want very different things from their Association.  They want the industry to be promoted.  They want the animal profile to be raised.  They want the fibre product promoted.  They want a “registry”.

Llamas were usually “there first”, but as the alpaca contingent grows, unrest inevitably develops. However well the then committee handles this, there is a split.  At times harmonious, but more frequently acrimonious.  After a few years the split is seen, in hindsight, to make sense and llama and alpaca people become friends again.

So my point is – it is going to happen sometime.  If the time is right, get on with it.  Do it as harmoniously as possible.  And get back to being friends who work together when there is a common outcome (e.g. in exports, health issues, or in displays to the public).

For the past few years we have had trade stands at NZ’s largest public show jointly with llamas.  There is no conflict. The animals usually have their own clientele and I have been known to recommend llamas ahead of alpacas when it is in the customers benefit.

 

An Alpaca Association in France

Even within the alpaca community there are not common goals.

Ask people why they are breeding alpacas, the answers range from

  • Pets (an honest answer)
  • Fibre (it is a good publicity answer but really don’t expect to make a return on your investment)
  • Stud breeding (breeding alpacas to sell to other people who breed alpacas to sell to other people who …………….. etc etc).
  • Showing them for pleasure and ribbons (another honest answer).
  • Meat and hides (the only true area of economic return - but probably not in France for a few years)

 

These can be grouped in 3 ways

Pets

Commercial

Stud

So when you build an Alpaca Association you need it to have goals and objectives relating to all 3 of these categories.  And all 3 have to be treated seriously by the Committee.

The Pet category is probably quite well served by the joint alpaca/llama association.  The other 2 categories are not.

 

Four things for a new Association to start with?

 

  1.    A Promotions Group (marketing the concept, not individual animals)
  2.    A Fibre Development Group
  3.    A Breed Development Group (encompassing Registries)
  4.    A Health Group (encompassing animal welfare)

But more on these in later issues after the conceptual part is done.

 

REGISTRIES

One of the first things a new Alpaca Association wants to do is to have a Registry.   The Registry funds the Association and allows membership fees to be kept down.   It also (sold well) ties people into the Association however poorly it is performing (you cannot leave the Association because they own the Registry, which you need).

Only the USA has had a Registry separate from the Association.  It led to a weaker Association, and allowed a few large breeders to control the Registry, not necessarily in the long term interest of the breed.

But apart from these control and financial reasons for a Registry – is it important to alpaca breeders.

Registries can come in many forms.

 

From just a census....

....Through an open data base of alpaca genetics

.........Through a DNA verification of that database

...............Through a screened entry-criteria for the Registry

.........Through a DNA based database of alpaca genetics, conformation and fibre.

....Through to a DNA based database as above based around an Alpaca Breeding Values system.

 

The former is cheap and easy to manage.  But offers little in return. The last couple are expensive, extremely controversial, but offer a full management toolbox.

If you breed pets then you probably do not need a Registry.  The French government forces a census registry on you anyway.

If you are commercial, you probably do not need to be ON a more sophisticated Registry.  But you do need to USE one to best select your bought-in stud stock or female replacement/refresh programme.  And if you can access Breeding Values you have an excellent selection tool, and you can also analyse your own herd characteristics, and hone your breeding objectives.

If you are a stud breeder then really a Registry is necessary, as you need to offer your clients a full and (preferably) independent view of the alpacas you are selling for high $$.

 

An alpaca registry in France?

 

The very first question is – do you want a French Alpaca Registry?

If the answer is yes, there are many different alpaca registries out there already. Do you want to join one of those – or establish your own from scratch?  Language, and financial control may be 2 key issues in this decision.

As a quick review:

 

German Registry – far too complex and detailed.  Prescribes the type of alpaca you can breed, whereas not all breeders have the same goals.   If a German wanted to breed alpacas to make high end, expensive carpet then their ideal alpaca could not be on the German Registry.

US Registry -  one of the more sophisticated and fully DNA registries (although audits have shown a lot of the database is corrupt).  USA would probably not be interested in hosting another registry.

Benelux Registry – I must admit some lack of knowledge here.  At least the language would not be a problem.

Lareu – little more than a census. (...but this could change in the near future - Ed.)

British Registry (BAS) – a successful and well set up registry.  Not sure of its degree of sophistication in the higher level features.  Would a UK registry be acceptable in France?  It would make some sense given a lot of the alpacas in France have been sourced from that Registry.

International (IAR) (Australia and NZ plus a few others) – I have greater knowledge of this registry and like it.  It has started to introduce DNA, has compulsory screening for working males, and voluntary screening for females (but only on conformation, allowing all fibre goals to be encompassed).    But it remains all-encompassing in that every alpaca whose parents are on the registry can enter.

 

I leave more questions than answers.   But that is good, because it is the French alpaca owners who have to make the decisions about their Registry.

I suggest start with the Association.   Get some good keen people of the Breed development Group who can start investigating what is available in terms of Registries and what features you want.

And, in parallel, try to get the Government in line so you do not get “saddled” with a Horse Registry which would be worse than useless.