Elizabeth Paul, Erewhon Alpacas
The range of colours in alpacas is surely their most outstanding characteristic, from the lovely honey fawns to the striking blacks, and every shade in between. The confusing bit comes in when we want to reproduce a particular fleece colour and scratch our heads trying to work out how we sometimes end up with something totally different.
The first step in colour breeding is to establish what we actually have to start with, and take it from there.
As breeders, we have not been helped by the official colour classification systems, based as they are on the colour of the blanket alone. We need to expand our field of view, to take into account the colours of the points, ie the nose, ears, legs and feet, even the eyelashes and the toenails, which together constitute the pattern, rather than just the blanket colour. The pattern on each alpaca represents an interaction between at least three sets of genes, and possibly more. Every mating tells us something about the genetic make-up of the parents. Each cria is a reflection of the genes passed on to it, by its parents.
The basic or most common pattern will be some form of bay. The gene series which controls this pattern is called agouti. Smaller agouti pattern animals often have a grizzled grey appearance, caused by alternating bands of yellow and black pigment in their hair fibres. A bay, in larger animals, tends to have more of a red brown body colour with black on the areas called the points, such as the nose, ears and feet, probably the mane if present and the tail. If we apply this pattern to alpacas, then most fawn, brown, or mahogany alpacas can be identified as being some form of bay. The extent of black may mask the red colour, and the shade of red may vary from honey fawn to mahogany brown. These variations may be due to individual agouti alleles, or they may be controlled by other modifying genes.
Generally speaking, lighter agouti alleles dominate over darker ones, and they may also carry any darker alleles below them in the series. The most recessive agouti allele, when present as a homozygous pair, allows the animal to be completely black, which is often referred to as being ?blue black? like the newborn cria in Photo 1. The cria in Photo 2, has quite a lot of black on its legs, face and neck; it may even have a black blanket, or saddle, but the haze of redbrown colour shows it to be a dark bay.
The other alternative to bay is called recessive red, similar to chestnut in horses. This gene is found in the Extension series, which dominates over the Agouti series. When present in the homozygous form it blocks agouti patterns and allows the animal to be one shade of fawn, yellow or red all over, with lighter coloured feet. These are also rare, unless we allow for the possibility that pink footed whites, are some diluted form of recessive red.
Brown is the recessive form of black pigment, and when present as the homozygous pair of alleles, all black pigment will be changed to brown, as in a chocolate Labrador dog. Any alpaca dark enough to be classified as ?brown? will have yellow pigment in its fibre and also have black feet, and will therefore be a bay pattern. Brown as a genetic colour, is absent from the alpaca herd.
Light agoutis may carry darker agouti alleles, which are not expressed on the parent.
Breeding with two light agoutis, such as two light fawns, or a fawn and medium brown (remembering that ?brown? is agouti, ie a darker bay) is most likely to produce another agouti form, perhaps a bit darker than the light parent, and a bit lighter than the dark parent. This mating could, however, produce a black, if both parents are carrying the most recessive agouti allele; or even a pinkfooted white or fawn, if both parents are carrying the recessive red allele.
Lighter agouti shades, mated to black, may or may not produce some blacks, if any of the light parents are carrying for it. The first round will however, put one recessive allele from the black parent, into every cria regardless of their actual colour. A second round of mating the crias to black again should produce a bigger drop of dark to black crias. In this way a lighter herd can be darkened.
Mating two blacks will almost certainly produce another black or very dark cria,
(a number of ?black? alpacas are likely to be the pattern called black and tan, ie black saddle with a redbrown belly, and inside legs. )
Contrary to popular opinion, white does not appear to be the dominant colour in the alpaca herd. Mating black to white generally does not result in either a white or a black cria, but some shade of bay. This is a further indication, that both black and white are recessive colours.
Grey and roan are two separate dominant patterns. They are called overlay patterns, meaning they will affect the underlying pattern of bay or black. The pattern for a typical grey generally consists of at least some white on the face, forming a ?bonnet?, with a white neck, maybe white feet and a grey saddle. See Photo 3. Not all greys have this much white on them. Rose grey alpacas are most likely some form of dark bay, and silver grey alpacas are genetically black. Grey can range from palest silver or lavender shades, to dark charcoal grey, and each shade is worthy of being a colour in its own right.
Roan is sometimes called black or dark headed roan. It appears to be progressive. The cria is born apparently black, or very dark, and over several shearings develops a greyish saddle, beginning at the groin and/or shoulder. The saddle can be quite greyish, but the head, neck and legs tend to stay quite black, even into old age. It is most apparent on blacks, although no doubt there are some darker bays around which are also dark headed roans. It is probably the rarest of the patterns, or else is the least recognised.
Both patterns can occur on lighter colour base, but they become much harder to recognise. Grey may create a white faced fawn roan, which will show the typical ?bonnet? of a grey but with the paler colour base. Roan on a light colour base would be almost not visible. Neither of these patterns are expected to ?breed true?, ie produce grey all the time. Two greys mated together, will produce mostly grey crias, but also occasionally either dark mahogany or black crias.
Tuxedo and Appaloosa:
Tuxedo is a term coined to describe the pattern of white marks usually seen on black, less commonly on dark bays. There is usually some white on the face, down the neck, and two or four white socks or stockings extending up the legs. The important point about this pattern is that it is regular, ie a mirror image from one side to the other. The other important point is that blacks like this are very often blue black, and can produce solid blue black crias.
Appaloosa is also loosely applied to spotty alpacas, of any kind, but there seems to be a definite pattern in ?white? appaloosas, which have black or dark fawn spots. They have black feet, black eyes, maybe dark eye rings, and a bit of dark colour around the ankles and up the inside of the back legs. They may have obvious spots, as in photo 4; or look ?white? until they are shorn for the first time. These two patterns appear to be independent of each other, and both are likely to be dominant.
Alpacas with these white markings, will usually only carry one copy of the gene, and will probably produce white marked, and solid colour crias in equal proportions if mated to solid dark colour mates. Even two white marked parents mated together, can produce a solid colour cria.
White is one of the hardest colours to breed for, as there can be several ways to achieve an all white alpaca. White x white will mostly produce white, but can produce almost any other colour including black. Generally though, if they don?t produce white they will produce some shade of fawn. If pink-footed white is controlled by a recessive allele, then it should be true breeding, and mating two pink-footed whites would be a good way to start producing an all white herd.
The exception to this is blue eyed white. Blue eyed whites appear to be a combination of at least grey and tuxedo, and possibly other modifying genes. It is recommended to mate them to solid black or dark brown, to try and reproduce these colours, rather than mating them to other whites. They are effectively, coloured alpacas in disguise.
The best process for breeding true to colour, is to use like coloured animals. The darker colours will more reliably reproduce themselves, because they appear to come lower down the agouti series and therefore can hold few surprises. Greys will not breed true, I consider greys to belong to the dark herd, and grey breeders will inevitably have greys and blacks together. Grey x black, will give approximately half grey and half black, with a few more blacks than greys - or so we have found.
Notes from ?The Alpaca Colour Key? Seminar by Elizabeth Paul. Nov 2002