The Ideal Alpaca: Suri & Huacaya
By Mike Safley
The alpaca breeder's idea of type is created by their visual picture of
the characteristics that are considered ideal for the breed. An ideal
breed type is often based on the details of conformation and color that
are not necessarily related to the economic productivity of the animals.
In alpacas, examples of this might include the exotic colors or patterns,
fleece coverage on the face or legs, eye color, pigmentation, or a
particular style of lock or crimp.
Breeders pay attention to breed type mainly because it is, in a sense,
a trademark offering additional evidence that the animal in question
conforms to the ideals of the breed. For example, Don Julio Barreda says
that "the heads of Accoyo's alpacas are my trademark." Breed type is a
matter of beauty to the breeders who have long been breeding and admiring
a particular breed. But beauty is subjective. Most of us can bring
ourselves to think that any particular type is beautiful if we work with
it long enough, have our money invested in it, and find it profitable. The
breeders of other breeds may not share our enthusiasm for alpacas, but
that will never diminish our devotion to the beauty of our animals.
Breed type often originates unconsciously with breeders who embrace the
traditional animal or their perception of the ancient purity of a breed.
It is easy for breeders to persuade themselves that the best animals of
the alpaca breed with the purest blood are thus and so, and to believe
that any deviations from that description indicate impurity. This
happened, to a certain extent, in the U.S. alpaca industry with the
introduction of Peruvian imports, which come primarily from a select few
alpaca co-ops and ranches in Peru.
WHY IS BREED TYPE IMPORTANT?
Breeders pay attention to outward appearance or type in making their
selections for two reasons. First, the breeder may want to breed a certain
type because it has a market value. If a market demand exists for a
certain type, the breeder may not care whether that type really will
furnish the maximum production profit. The fact that the buying public
wants it and is willing to pay for it is the thing of immediate practical
importance. Second, breeders may believe that type and productiveness, in
fleece or breeding, are closely correlated: if they select for type, they
will get productivity. Type has some sale value in all classes of
livestock. In extreme cases, beauty may be the main object. This is often
encountered in pet and fancy stock, such as dogs, and is an important
feature of horses. If breeders' customers center their demand on type,
breeding for productivity becomes secondary. If breeders' customers are
looking for productivity, breeders may only be interested in type if it
helps them achieve productivity.
THE IDEAL ALPACA
Everyone would like to buy, breed, and sell perfect alpacas. To do
that, we must first have a vivid picture of "perfect" in our mind's eye.
The ideal alpaca will always be a goal that moves away as we come near.
That is the way animal breeding is; founded in evolution.
First and foremost, an alpaca is a production animal. The product it
creates is fleece. An alpaca's ultimate value flows from its ability to
create fine, dense fleece that is coveted by the makers of luxury
It also so happens that the fleece characteristics which make an alpaca
valuable are heritable. When mated properly, alpacas pass these fleece
traits on to their offspring. At the end of the day, the ideal alpaca
produces an elite fleece and quality cria with high breeding value. I
found the following quote in the classic sheep breeding text from
Australia, The Merino Past, Present and Probable, 1943, by H.B.
"If the sheepbreeder, then, goes to his woolbroker for advice;
distrusts, on principle, all stud 'sales talk' and other propaganda;
heeds the scientist; endeavors to buy rams that will breed truly, and
feeds his sheep properly, the increased profit collectively, to the
whole industry, may well be 'hundreds of thousands of pounds a
If you simply substitute the word "alpaca" for "sheep" or "merino," you
will begin to see what it takes to create the ideal alpaca. In other
words, avoid the hype, use genetically sound selection and breeding
systems, always use impact herd sires, and feed your herd correctly.
THE IDEAL ALPACA: Suri and Huacaya
An ideal alpaca's look begins with the head, a dense top knot, and
well-covered cheeks converging with the wool cap to form a close V at the
eyes, which are brown. The ears are shaped like an arrowhead and erect.
The muzzle is soft and wedge shaped. The jaw should fit together
correctly, with the lower incisors meeting the upper dental pad. The head
and neck make up about one-third of an alpaca's height, the body makes up
one-third, as do the legs. The neck connects to the shoulder at
approximately a 45° angle to the back, which is straight, dropping off a
bit at the tail. When the alpaca is alert, the neck and back form almost a
90° angle with the head slightly forward. The perfect alpaca has a squared
off appearance, with four strong legs setting squarely under it, giving it
a graceful stance which translates into a fluid gait. The ideal alpaca has
a soft, dense fleece, which is completed with abundant coverage down the
The alpaca's head is a window into its quality and type: both huacaya
and suri. The head of the ideal suri should exhibit well-covered cheeks
and a bearded chin. The suri's fleece should begin independently locking
at the forehead and continue uniformly down the neck, across the body and
down the legs, finishing at the toes. The head of the ideal huacaya should
exhibit a dense top knot which is crimpy. The cheeks should be well
covered, and the bridge of the nose, clean. The crimp in the top knot
should continue down the neck, across the blanket, and into the tail,
finishing down the belly and legs.
The stars of any herd will catch your eye with an alert, erect
appearance. Their fleece opens into well-organized locks or staples of
soft, bright, and lustrous fleece, which handles like silk or cashmere.
Above all, an ideal alpaca will never be mistaken for a llama.
THE IDEAL SURI FLEECE
The primary characteristic which distinguishes a suri from a huacaya is
the phenotype of its fleece. The suri's fleece falls close to the body,
moves freely, and gives the animal a lustrous, flat-sided appearance. The
luster found in the suri's fleece is the primary indication of the
animal's quality. In addition, the fiber should be fine, and have good
handle (a more slippery handle than huacaya) with a well-nourished, almost
greasy feel. The locks or ringlets that make up the fleece should be
round, form close to the skin, and have uniform twist to the end. Ideally,
the style of lock should be uniform from the top knot to the hock;
particular attention should be paid to uniformity and independence of lock
across the mid side. The legs and underbelly should be well covered.
A more rounded or fluffy appearance can indicate volume rather than
density in a suri's fleece which is undesirable. There should be no crimp
in the staple, but a low wave is desirable along the length of an
individual fiber. Due to the compactness of the fleece, suris often give
the appearance of being smaller than the huacaya, but this is an optical
illusion. The suri should be every bit as big and robust as a huacaya.
Think of the ideal suri as producing a curtain of silk to grace its sturdy
frame. Suri alpaca fiber is woven into cloth and made into coats or
jackets that exhibit a warm, luxurious luster.
The suri's locks should have a well-defined architecture, which relates
to the degree of twist or curl and the solidity in the lock. Locks should
be compact, independent (swinging out freely from the skin when the animal
is in motion or the fleece disturbed), uniform, and start close to the
skin. Locks may be twisted, curled, or penciled and should start from the
forelock and continue through to the hocks. Spirals in the locks may twist
from either left or right. Locks can be with or without a wave which
should not be confused with crimp, which is a fault. A suri, when compared
to a huacaya of similar age and fiber micron size will have a longer lock
(staple in huacaya) in the fleece. The locks should hang straight and hug
the body, giving a curtain like appearance. When the fleece is opened, the
inside locks should be as well-formed as the outside layer and exhibit
luster at their base.
THE IDEAL HUACAYA FLEECE
The ideal huacaya's fleece should be: fine, dense, uniform, and grow
perpendicular to the skin. The fleece, which grows from individual
follicles in the skin, should be made up of defined staples of crimpy
"bundled" fleece. These bundles should organize themselves into staples
which create a dense presentation across the animal. The huacaya alpaca
should be well covered with a soft, uniform fleece, except on the ears and
the bridge of the nose of mature animals. The muzzle and ears should be
soft to the touch. The elite alpaca has a well-defined crimp in their top
knot, which continues down the neck, into the blanket the belly, and on to
the tail. There should be very little medulation. The fleece should be
well-nourished, exhibit a brightness or sheen, and be void of dull, dry,
chalky fiber. The ideal huacaya will produce fleece as soft and as fine as
cashmere. Huacaya alpaca is spun into luxury garments that can be worn
close to the skin.
Study the pictures of the suri and huacaya alpacas that appear in this
journal. Examine the pictures of their fleeces. Burn these images on your
mind and make them part of your quest when you search for or work to breed
the ideal alpaca. Always remember that an alpaca is valuable for both, its
fleece and its ability to produce excellence in its progeny.