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Measuring Alpaca Fiber
My arm is not a scale; my eye is not a microscope
Many of us spend a healthy amount of time evaluating our alpacas for ‘value.’ We investigate ‘bloodlines,’ championship, reserve and blue ribbon wins. We search through show data for the number of entries in a particular halter class. Some of us believe that the more an alpaca costs, the better it will be. Many of us agonize as to who to breed to whom next spring. Many of us pour through articles on animal husbandry and genetics articles looking for a way to stack the odds in our favor.
We agonize over terms like ‘zipper crimp versus French fry crimp,’ ‘lock structure ’and ‘degrees of luster’. We cart our alpacas around the country and compete in halter and fleece shows, hoping to learn more as to the worth of our animals as they measured against others. If we win big, the judge was an expert. With a loss, the judge was incompetent.
Whether we return home with a fist full of ribbons or empty handed, we may still puzzle over the questions like ‘which herdsire should I breed my best dam to?’ or ‘am I truly improving my herd with my breeding strategies?’ Even if we take the championship at a show, how do we know this titleholder will produce improved offspring?
No matter what we read, see or feel, or if we win in halter or fleece shows, much of what we do we do on instinct, pre-conceived notion, mood, hearsay – and these are mostly opinions mixed with experience. We call this a subjective view. It can be an emotional view, a biased view, based on your impression. It is subject to illusion.
The counter view is the objective view. This is the scientific view; the measured view; the unemotional view. Facts. Statistics. Hard comparisons. What we see and judge visually and with our hand are subjective. We view the alpaca’s phenotype it’s external being. We look at conformation. We look at ‘indicators’ of fineness such as crimp and can visually compare on alpaca’s fiber to another and determine which fiber is finer; which is longer.
When we apply science and measure with tools, we begin to view the alpaca objectively. While I might say, ‘my alpaca is finer than your alpaca,’ and believe it and you say the same about yours, scientific measurement moves us from opinion to fact. What we measure is objective, and many of these ways to measure objectively help us understand the alpaca’s genotype. And this truly does help us stack the odds for selective breeding for improved qualities in our herds.
As expected with science and its greatest tool, mathematics, results are often displayed as complex formulas with strange terms. We often repeat these terms without fully understanding their meaning. We just know that an ‘SD’ of 4 is great and an AFD of 50 isn’t.
The goal of this material is to remove the complexity and mystery from objective measurement to help us both understand the value of scientific alpaca measurement tools and to help us utilize them to accurately assess the value of our alpacas for certain traits and to also evaluate our breeding programs for accuracy and progress.