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Alpacas - Body Conformation

Conformation is the term that we use to describe the correctness in the body of the alpaca. Alpacas should have straight legs when viewed from the front and they should not be too close together. Many alpacas have front legs that turn out very slightly in the ankle and toe area. This is not a huge fault. Legs that are very close together indicate a narrow chest area, and that is more serious than a slight turnout. Crooked front legs, very turned out legs or knock knees are a serious fault.

Back legs need to be far enough apart to indicate a wide pelvic area as well. Like cows and horses, alpacas can be cow hocked, sickle hocked, bowlegged etc. It's important to educate yourself in the proper look of front and back legs and this will come with experience. I used to say "Look at the alpacas that win in the show ring," but the current trend is to reward certain fleece characteristics far out of proportion to their relevance to good breeding quality.  So consider the show ring, but put greater weight on body conformation if you want healthy alpacas!

There should be a similar length to the legs, back and neck in an ideal alpaca. If the legs are short but the neck is long, you get a dumpy look. If the neck is short and the back is too long you get an alpaca that looks like a bus. The proportions of the animal are important. Equally important is the density of the bones. The legs and shoulders should not look skinny. Good bone density means less arthritis and other problems later in life.

Alpacas do not have top teeth, only a hard upper palate. Ideally, the bottom teeth should meet the upper palate evenly, not protrude outward from under the palate (undershot) nor be far back on the palate ("parrot mouth".) Many alpacas who had a perfect bite at 1 or 2 years old will not have a perfect bite at age 4 or 5. The alpaca's bite changes along with the rest of them as they age. Adult teeth don't usually appear until around age 3. If you think that your alpaca has broken off one or both bottom teeth and that alpaca is around 2 & 1/2 years of age, he/she is probably just shedding the baby teeth, so don't panic!

Don't assume that an alpaca has a perfect bite just because it looks good when you see the alpaca. It may have been filed down a bit by the owner. This filing was necessary to help the alpaca be able to eat easily, but not all alpaca breeders will tell you whether they have filed the teeth before or not.


 

If you have an alpaca halter judge that ignores knock-knees, bad bite and body proportion so that he/she can discuss "brightness", "type-y head", "coverage" etc., that is - in my opinion - a bad judge! These are show ring fads, - not actual practical issues that matter in alpaca breeding. Try to take any show ring experience with a grain of salt. Try to breed strong-boned, straight, well proportioned alpacas who will have long, healthy breeding lives.

Remember that inbreeding or "linebreeding" can produce alpacas with a certain, popular look, but inbreeding also produces lower fertility, higher rate of birth defects and less hybrid vigor. Study your genetics before you get into alpaca breeding! Too many alpaca "breeders" are fuzzy (no pun intended) on the topics of genetics.  Accoyo alpacas, for example, were produced through linebreeding at the Accoyo ranch in Peru.  Accoyos have many wonderful characteristics, but it is not advisable to breed Accoyos to Accoyos ad infinitum.

Here is a link to a bunch the farm of a friend that I think knows a gigantic amount about alpaca genetics and she is not a B.S.-er if you know what I mean.

Stormwind Alpacas

For a book that contains a huge amount of useful and truthful information on everything alpaca (including body conformation) try Dr. Eric Hoffman's book, The Alpaca Book. It has diagrams and explanations of various issues in alpaca body conformation.

 

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