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Linebreeding in practice

by Steve Marshall Stansbury Alpacas

P. O. Box 195, Inglewood, South Australia, 5133 + 61 883 805 965

My previous article, “Consistent quality alpacas” published in issue 19 of Alpaca World, provided an explanation of linebreeding, the associated advantages, disadvantages and a very brief insight into the theory behind linebreeding. Like so many theories, a better understanding is gained when you are able to see the practical application. In this article I will explain the process we used at Stansbury Alpacas to establish a line and provide some example pedigrees. At this point I should say, before I ventured down the path of linebreeding, I read a huge range of articles and books, both for and against linebreeding attempting to fully understand the implications and make myself aware of possible pitfalls. I would recommend anyone considering linebreeding to do likewise.

Identify a high quality target ancestor
When Joanne and I decided to go down the path of linebreeding, the first step was to identify a target ancestor. To assist in that we established some selection criteria our target ancestor had to match.

(a) An outstanding alpaca with a clearly recognizable name or image for marketing.
(b) Sound conformation. – height, weight, shape, no visible faults.
(c) Excellent fleece characteristics – fine, dense, style, luster, crimp, color etc, etc.
(d) Highly prepotent for desired traits – (progeny should be of a high standard)
(e) Large number of progeny available to maintain high selection intensity.

There were a number of alpacas that met our criteria, however we had to settle on one and we chose Purrumbete Highlander. As it turns out I have now come across eight other alpaca studs that have to some degree been linebreeding to Highlander. Although it’s nice to know others have thought he was good enough to line breed too, I am hoping someone is linebreeding to an unrelated target ancestor with similar characteristics so that I will have access to linebred alpacas for outcrossing when the need arises.

Selection of breeding stock
Selection of breeding stock that will influence your herd is extremely important. We purchased two of the best of his sons that our budget could cope with and mated them to every female in our herd.

To speed up the process we also purchased a number of Highlander granddaughters from various studs throughout Australia. The Australian Alpaca Association, IAR database proved extremely valuable to track down who owned Highlander granddaughters, from what we considered the best of the Highlanders sons. By purchasing a number of Highlanders granddaughters that have different lines of decent we were able to keep our selection options open and later remove some lines from our breeding program that didn’t meet our production standards. The sons of Purrumbete Highlander that now appear in the pedigrees of our alpacas include:
Windsong Valley Wilde Star Purrumbete Saxon King
Windsong Valley Orion Purrumbete Hot Shot
Windsong Valley Mikardo Windsong Valley Iceman
Gunnamatta Armani Millduck Farnham
Parnabrae Brutus Coonawarra Goldstein
Purrumbete Windpiper Purrumbete Quicksilver
Purrumbete Brigantine Ladysmith Density

To maintain hybrid vigor and avoid inbreeding depression, each year we purchased either another Highlander son or a male that was already linebred to Highlander. Each new male that we bought in had to match our specific selection criteria but have no ancestor in common with our herd other than Highlander, our target ancestor. Highlander’s influence in our herd is becoming stronger each generation as we develop a more uniform, consistent herd and the ability to more accurately predict the quality of an alpaca before it is born. Each time we purchased a new male we also sold one to limit the influence of each particular male on our herd. We were aiming to spread Highlander’s influence across the herd through a wide variety of his sons.

Tracking pedigrees
To track pedigrees and monitor levels of inbreeding and various traits we use some software called “Pedigree Viewer”, however there are various other software programs that may be used to achieve the same result. It allowed us to record and track various traits, estimated breeding values and monitor improvement. Early in our linebreeding program we also decided to include an identifier in the animal’s name. As the pedigrees grew longer we needed to have some way of identifying Highlanders influence easily. In our herd Highland appears in an alpacas name if Highlander appears in the pedigree twice. From there we are including H3 if Highlander appears three times, H4 if Highlander appears 4 times, etc, etc.
The following three example pedigrees show linebreeding over multiple generations.

The first pedigree shows Stansbury’s Highland Legend, an animal that we have bred including the linebreeding relationships and the calculated Inbreeding coefficient of 6.25%. This is a pattern that is quite easy to achieve and doesn’t require access to the target ancestor. We have used this pattern extensively to gain the influence of our target ancestor without raising the inbreeding coefficient too quickly. By using various sons of our target ancestor that have been purchased from other breeders, we have avoided inbreeding and made sure that no other alpaca appears in the pedigree more than once. This approach should reduce the need for outcrossing due to the variety of unrelated genes brought in through the grand dam. It could be considered the slow, safe approach.

The second pedigree, Stansbury’s H3 Liberty Lass is also of an alpaca that we have bred. It also shows an inbreeding coefficient of 6.25%. Earlier I mentioned that we use an identifier in the name. This one is H3 representing Highlander 3 times in the pedigree. With limited space on an IAR pedigree certificate, Highlander would only show up once and the fact that this alpaca is linebred could easily go unnoticed. Linebreeding does take careful planning to ensure that you are actually achieving what you set out to achieve with the method you have chosen. In this example the inbreeding coefficient is also being built up fairly slowly and in a method that avoids the problems associated with inbreeding.

The third pedigree shows the pedigree of Stansbury’s H5 Prepotent Prince an animal that we would like to produce but hasn’t yet been conceived. Yes, we own the sire and dam but the proposed cria hasn’t yet been conceived. As you can see we have progressed from using sons of the target ancestor to males that have themselves been linebred. It has enabled us to progress more quickly along our chosen path. This example, providing everything goes to plan will arrive in about April 2008 and should be highly prepotent for the traits and characteristics that we have been selecting for. The target ancestor appears 5 times in the pedigree without any other alpaca appearing more than once. The inbreeding coefficient was at 12.5% with the sire but the final planned offspring will only have an inbreeding coefficient of 9.375%.

I expect one day people will value linebreeding enough that a H6 will be worth considerably more than a H3 due to the higher level of prepotency and years invested in planned linebreeding to achieve it. Linebreeding is a very slow process and requires the breeder to have very clear goals and selection criteria for success. Although Stansbury Alpacas has been established almost ten years, we have been focused on linebreeding for only six years. Currently we are running a herd of approximately 100 alpacas including approximately 30 that have some degree of linebreeding. Pleased with the results at this stage we are eagerly awaiting our April 2007 drop that will include a number of H3 and H4 linebreed alpacas. Embryo transfer is an obvious method to produce a greater number of linebred alpacas. However, at this stage we will not be using embryo transfer because we intend to maintain several lines of decent to avoid the problems associated with inbreeding depression.

Some final points to consider.
Linebreeding may be used as a tool to compliment other breeding systems. There are many very good approaches and ideas for breeding plans. I think the wise breeder is the one who looks at all of the options and considers how various ideas and methods may complement each other. Pick out the best options for your own situation and goals.

Effective linebreeding requires careful planning and stringent selection criteria. Without thoughtful planning and stringent selection a breeder will make slow gains and could in fact regress at times.

Linebreeding is a long term process requiring patience for success. Make sure you have the patience to follow through, without your vision and plans being highjacked by the latest fad. It is easy to be influenced by the latest show winner. If you follow through with your own linebreeding plans someone else may linebreed to the latest show winner and produce a line that you might outcross to later.

Value the genotype and prepotency. Linebred alpacas may become more highly valued due to their increased probability of passing on visible traits.