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Alpaca Registration: Help or Hindrance to our Alpaca Industry Growth?

QUESTION:  “I am curious about registration. How many of you do not register your animals? How do those of you who do feel about those who do not? Does it hurt the industry?”

The above question was posted in a social media group.

And the ANSWER is…[drum roll please] it depends.  There isn't a "correct" answer.   

My response to the social media post is “Look at your business plan...it will be different for everyone.”  If you have alpacas as a business, every action you take should be guided by your business plan objectives and goals.  Your response is not a belief, but rather a reflection of your business plan.  Additionally, the statement “I believe all alpacas should be registered”….requires a qualifier, e.g., if they are considered seed stock or breeding stock and you contribute information to a database.

But first, what does AOA alpaca registration mean?  AOA alpaca registration is a method for determining parentage.  It is not an endorsement of health, fiber quality, conformation or prepotency.  You can register a male born with one testicle, or a female with partial choanal atresia.  Because of this, it should not be used to make mating decisions, but instead it can best be used to verify that the trait identity is accurately linked in parentage.  Since registration does not connote a level of quality, it should not be used as a marketing ploy.  Sellling an alpaca at a higher price because it is registered is akin to false advertising.

If registration is not to be used for alpaca marketing purposes, why would anyone want to register an alpaca.  Simply put, registration is the means by which we ensure our data submission is accurate.  This doesn't mean that the data itself is accurate, but rather that the data is linked to the correct alpaca.  Linking data inaccurately by entering information to the wrong genetic line can have disastrous effects, and in this regard, AOA registration is an excellent strategy to prevent errors.  In lieu of this, it makes sense that alpaca registration is utilized to ensure the accuracy of data application.  It is not an endorsement that the data is accurate.

Does registration ensure breed preservation and is this important?  While registration does ensure breed preservation, it does so with a caveat.    US alpaca registration started just 30 plus years ago with the importation of alpacas into this country.  We did not know their genetic background prior to the importation.  And without a breed standard, it is pointless to promote registration as a means of ensuring genetic preservation.  This is probably not so critical for an animal that has but two species types, meaning suri and huacaya.

How does registration and data submission tie in with your business plan?  Basically, your business plan will guide you as to the need to register your alpacas.  Most livestock models have seed stock as registered, end product producers as not registered, and breeding stock (aka reproducers) as a mix of registered and non-registered. Breeding stock is not always a seed stock, although all seed stock is breeding stock. The terminology can be a bit confusing as well.  So what is the difference between seed stock and breeding stock?  

Seed stock producers (SSP) have as their primary focus, advancement of the end product and the breed through enrollment and maintenance of a database.  Mating decisions are focused on improvement rather than reproduction and replacement.  Seed stock producers (SSP) are primarily interested in breed improvement, and those animals are the cornerstone of a database such as the AOA EPD Program.

Breeding stock producers (BSP) have as their primary focus, replacement of animals to maintain a steady or improved fiber end product.  These producers replace alpacas lost from disease, illness or culls.  Or these producers might breed to increase their herd size.  Breeding stock producers (BSP) are interested principally in animal replacement or herd expansion. BSP can still enter information to a  database, but genetic improvement through breeding decisions is not as much of a focus from a business plan perspective.

The merit of an AOA alpaca registration is in its link to genetic advancement and improvement and ultimately to an EPD program.  So what does that mean for not registering alpacas?  

There is an argument for not registering male fiber alpacas and non-breeding females (such as ET recipients).   Data collection for end product producers, meaning fiber farmers, incurs additional cost in a system that may already be minimally operational.  It’s a business decision that can only be answered on an individual basis.

If the US remains a predominantly artisan industry, I imagine many people will continue to register their offspring. Whether that is necessary or not is debatable. Alpaca farmers with an artisan business plan might feel less of a need to register their offspring as being a seed stock producer within an artisan model is of lesser importance than in a commercial industry business plan.

If you are in the alpaca business and your business plan includes offspring sales and advancing the end product of fiber through breeding decisions, then you should be registering all animals AND sending information into the national database.  Registration without data collection is like hitting a home run but stopping at first base.  Your registration will become much more valuable to you if you use it for accurate data submission.  Registration should not simply be a marketing tactic.  If you are in the alpaca business and your business plan includes fiber males, recipient females or replacing your animal stock, then there's not as desirable a need to register your animals.  It doesn't mean that you're not interested in advancing the herd; it merely means that you are not interested in improving the fiber through the database.  

Business plans…yet another reason to have one!