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Articles by Alpaca World Magazine:

The Art & Science of Alpaca Judging

Rachel Hebditch

The American breed society, Alpaca Owners and Breeders Association, has just published a new book ?The Art & Science of Alpaca Judging? written by the senior judges Jude Anderson, Cheryl Gehly, Michael Safley and Amanda VandenBosch and dedicated to the man they describe as the ?Ambassador of alpaca judging? Dr Julio Sumar.

The book was five years in the making and Amy Wood-McCroskie, a past president of AOBA, writes in the foreword: ?Whether you are an experienced breeder, savvy to the techniques of halter competitions, or a brand new breeder with no show ring experience, this book was written for you. If you simply want to learn how to improve your breeding programs, this book will give you new strategies to produce higher quality, improved offspring. The authors explain in clear and concise language the intricate components involved in halter and fleece judging that every alpaca breeder and enthusiast will understand and find beneficial. It prioritises the essential elements that breeders need to show alpacas, fleeces and to improve herds.?

The first chapter explains the evolution of the AOBA show system and its tough judge training programme and the second looks at the ideal alpaca type. The opening paragraph states: ?The alpaca is a fiber animal and its conformation should emphasise its fitness for function. There is no distinction between a ?show type? or ?fiber type? alpaca. When alpacas are accurately judged, the best ?show type? is the best ?fiber type? and the best ?fiber type? has correct conformation and the ideal combination of utility and strength. Correct conformation enables females and males to produce healthy offspring and produce abundant quantities of fiber more economically, with less stress, for a longer time?. This chapter also looks at the heritability of fleece characteristics, pretty high at just under 50% and the trait most important to commercial fleece production - fineness. They attribute 65 to 80% of the price paid is dependent on fineness.

The Emphasis Guide was conceived as a means of augmenting the AOBA Show System Handbook which identifies positive and negative traits but gives no guidelines as to their relative importance. This was approved in 2007 and puts fineness, density, weight, staple length, uniformity and lack of guard hair as the primary emphasis in huacayas adding lustre for suris to the other traits with lock structure, crimp and handle as moderate emphasis.

The chapter on conformation has some great photos that clearly show leg faults, ghastly dental problems, correct gait and so on. In the commercial fibre traits section there is an interesting paragraph on the dreaded prickle factor which reads:
?Scientists have determined that it doesn?t matter whether a garment is made of wool, alpaca, mohair or man made acrylics; if more than 5% of the fabric is fiber with a diameter in excess of 30 microns, it will prickle or itch. Research has also established that once the average diameter of the fiber in a fabric or sweater exceeds 22 microns, the prickle factor occurs, and the person wearing the garment begins to itch. A mean fiber diameter of 21 microns or less, with less than 5%of the fibers exceeding 30 microns, is necessary to reduce the prickle sensation to a level that most people will perceive as comfortable?.

But what about crimp? Alpaca is considered a low crimp fiber and although processors do not pay more for highly crimped fibre they are convinced of its importance in processing efficiency and resistance to compression. Carlos Montalvo, manager of textile processing at Grupo Inca, says that to improve the quality of alpaca fiber for the manufacturer: ?First it should be finer and more uniform. This would allow us to create lighter weight garments. Next I would like to see more crimp, which would allow us to spin a finer yarn, creating lighter garments. If the fleece has crimp it has more hooks or links, and a greater ability to hold together when spun at high speeds, which allows the creation of a fine yarn. Crimp creates more resilience and elasticity in the final product, which makes a garment that stretches and moves when it is worn. And resilience in the fiber keeps it from breaking up in the combing and spinning process, so there are less ends in the yarn, adding to comfort.?

Later chapters in the book focus on alpaca fiber, judging fleece on the alpaca, fleece show judging, ring procedure, practical aspects of judging and the role of the exhibitor.

There is also an entire section on oral reasons, hopefully all would-be judges will study this. I think the exhibitors know how difficult oral reasoning must be for the judges but the repetition can sometimes drive you bonkers. One year a group of us decided that any judge who said that the alpaca in first place was ?the complete package? would be buying the drinks after the show. We did quite well out of that.

But seriously in the AOBA system each set of oral reasons has three basic sections: comparison, grant and criticism. Comparison is the basis for halter class judging and once the first is placed the balance of the class is placed on relative merit. Grants are used to concede a superior or equal trait in a lower placed alpaca and lastly there is constructive criticism as there is no perfect alpaca.

This really is a terrific book and if you are in the Europe or the UK and want to buy a copy, please get in touch with the editor.