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July 09, 2012

By: Nancy Lake

How I Overcame My Aversion to Spots

Spots on Greys

When I started breeding for gray ten years ago, I confess I had a spot phobia. It was sneaky how it entered my conciousness. After seeing numerous alpacas I was continually drawn to the grays and how beautiful they are. Many of these animals are like a watercolor, with one color bleeding into another, and shades varying from light glistening silver gray to rich, deep and darker hues. At that time, I also thought clean blankets were important. A solid blanket somehow had more appeal, maybe because it looked neater and cleaner. Additionally, I noticed some ads for grays emphasizing “spotless blanket, or few spots”, making me think this must be a valuable trait. So, many of my earlier purchases had solid gray blankets (although it is very difficult to find many alpacas with absolutely no spots) and classic tuxedo patterns, for no good reason other than a visual preference.

As I began to sell alpacas, I noticed how some potential buyers would examine my alpacas to a degree that I considered extreme. They would check every spot as if it were a nasty growth that might contaminate their gray breeding program or worse. “Oh, look here, Rhonda, ahem, I found a pencil sized brown spot in this one’s armpit of all things. Horrors! On to the next one.” Out of the corner of my eye I could see CD, one of my older gray alpacas, crossing her legs so her black band wouldn’t show, Tamarack plastering herself up against her cria so her blanket spot was hidden, and Mistral kushing and refusing to get up, knowing her underside was a different color than gray. While my beautiful alpacas were suffering these indignities, I glanced at my arm and saw the familiar freckles I’ve had all my life. Suddenly every spot on my body seemed enormous, and I thought I must have inherited a bad gene somewhere along the line. I stuffed my hands in my pockets.

After breeding grays for a few years, and seeing the beautiful results, I began to relax on the spot thing. ( I also discovered I didn’t have time every morning to put cover-up on all of ‘my’ thousands of freckles and spots.) What I realized is that spot doesn’t necessarily beget spot! My females with the most spots would many times have crias with very few spots. Ones with large areas of more than 6” would deliver beautiful solid looking crias. To complicate things further, some of my females with solid blankets would suddenly pop out a newborn cria with many spots. This was Step 1 of my spot recovery process.

Enter Anastasia Josephine. I was blown away by her fleece sample, but snikes, she had at least fifty spots, and they were all different colors! I pictured my “Always Gray” program turning into an “Always Everything” herd. The Aries pioneer spirit in me prevailed, however, and I purchased her. Five Blue Ribbons and Two Color Championships later, I have no regrets. She is one of the densest grays I’ve ever owned, her conformation is excellent, and her fleece is scrumptious! I’ve entered her in the largest, most competitive fleece shows, and she has taken top honors without fail. By the way, I did not choose to pull out every spot for showing, and it didn’t seem to matter to the judges. After breeding her to gray, she recently gave birth to a superb male, solid light fawn or possibly light rose gray. We shall see how he develops, but right now he is an advanced cria.

I will let the genetics experts continue the discussion on how to read spots scientifically in grays, but I will conclude by saying I now believe the quality of a gray alpaca is not dependent on spotless blankets, and my herd has improved greatly because of it. I still mention in ads, however, if an alpaca has a spot free blanket, because there are still a lot of buyers out there who have not yet reached Step 1 in spot recovery.