Friday, May 7, 2010

What the Alpaca Industry needs to do in the next 365 Days

I want to touch on the big picture in this post and then elaborate further in future posts on each of these subjects. Each subject is too large to be addressed in a single post.

End Product Development

For our industry to be viable and sustainable we must develop our end product. There are several projects that are very exciting such as the many niche markets selling fiber and the work the AFCNA is doing. This is a start but we must work together to do more. One concern I have is that we are working on too many individual projects but not enough focus is on a collaborative industry-wide approach, more on this is a future post. Use alpaca fiber at every opportunity to promote WHY we raise alpacas. Most people you will meet still have not worn alpaca; get them connected to our fiber in any way possible. There are many projects being developed put your fiber into production and do not let it waste away in the barn.

Breeder Education Tools

There are many areas where we can become better and more successful breeders. Developing assessment skills as a breeder and a record system to use this performance data is one that I think is very important. Up to now the show ring has been the primary assessment tool many breeders have relied on to evaluate their program and make breeding selections. While the show ring will always be important it cannot be the only tool used. Breeders must develop and use phenotypic assessment and performance records in their program. It is shearing time and this is the perfect time for breeders to assess the fleece they are producing. As part of the process I urge everyone to submit fiber samples under the ARI EPD program both provide histogram data and submit that data into ARI’s EPD program. Additionally enter your own information from shearing weight, birth weight and birthing ease directly into your ARI data. This is a free service and it does not take much time.

Youth Programs

Youth programs are the single most exciting programs we can be involved in. Take a moment and become a host farm or donating ranch through the AYA program, details and forms are located at You can make a difference in the future of our industry by training or donating an alpaca to a young breeder. There is no better promotion for our industry than supporting youth programs in the AYA, 4-H and FFA. 2010 marked the second year of an alpaca youth judging competition at the GWAS Denver show. I urge all shows to integrate youth training opportunities into the events of your show. These events are low cost and provide excellent opportunities to promote alpacas and the alpaca industry.

Expanded Promotion

We need to expand our promotion efforts beyond simply TV advertising. There are many methods of promoting alpacas and we need to use them all. The simple fact is TV advertising is very costly; there is no getting around this. While the industry has certainly benefited from TV marketing this must not be our only promotional effort. The good news is that many programs are very effective and come at a much lower cost. As mentioned above youth programs are an excellent means of promoting alpacas and they are very cost effective. Did you know 2010 will be the 3rd year AOBA has had a booth at the National FFA Convention? This event draws more than 50,000 of the nation’s future leaders in agriculture along with their advisors to a single event. We need to expand alpaca promotion at this event by making the AYA host farm and donation program available for advisors and students to use. For this to work we need breeders to sign up and participate. Another cost effective means of promotion is giveaways that promote alpacas and AOBA at the FFA convention. These giveaways go home with the students and advisors and serve to remind them to include alpacas in their existing livestock programs. I believe this is a very cost effective use of our marketing funds and has a more global benefit to all breeders. Let me know your thoughts on how this could be better accomplished.

AOBA has developed new IT solutions that will be released with the Membership Advertising Program, MAP (formerly the Farm and Ranch Guide). Use the solutions that provide the services you need and support the programs within your breed association. Remember every dollar spent outside of AOBA does not contribute to the programs AOBA offers its members.

What is the take away message? Get your fiber out of the barn and into yarn, it does no good sitting and waiting for something to happen. Make a point to expand your assessment skills and use performance records in your breeding program, check our website for upcoming classes and training Participate in ARI EPDs and let ARI know that we need the data along with an open and fully searchable database. Sign up to become an AYA host farm and donate an alpaca to a young breeder. Encourage the AOBA board to expand its promotional (marketing) efforts beyond TV advertising. Support participation in the FFA convention and use it as one of the premier promotional opportunities. In future posts I will take on these subjects in expanded detail. As always let me know your thoughts by commenting on this post.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

What Traits Should a Board Member Possess?

We all sit around and talk about the trait selection within our breeding programs and what we are selecting for to meet our herd goals. This process can be applied to a breed association as well and board members who govern and lead it. The comments I make hear apply equally to sitting board members as well as potential board members, candidates. I am not writing to endorse any candidate, quite to the contrary. What I do want to discuss is what it takes to be an effective board member of a livestock breed association. First let me say being on any board is not for the tame at heart. The demands of the position are high in terms of time and energy. It is impossible to make decisions that all of the membership agree with and support. There will always be disagreements among board members as to what is best for the association; this is actually good for the organization as it provokes thought and debate. However it is none the less challenging.

Boards are a representative form of governance; individuals are elected to serve the membership. This is much like the form of government that governs our nation. Many people mistakenly believe that both our government and associations such as ours are democratic where by the members have a say in all matters, this is incorrect. In fact nothing would ever be accomplished if every issue was taken to a popular vote. This should not be taken to say that a once a person is elected they should forget to ask the membership who elected them for direction and input. Elected members must always remember to be aware of how the majority of the membership feels and what needs they have.

The first trait I want to discuss is duty of loyalty. Directors must exercise good judgment in the discharge of their duties in the operations of the association. They must discharge their actions in good faith and in the best interest of the association. What this means to me is that a director must wear the hat of the association rather than that of their own ranch. This is not easy and is sometimes quite challenging. In my experience some members can do this while others cannot. There are times when processes that may have worked well for a member’s individual ranch will not work in the best interest of the association. You must ask yourself is the person able to separate the best interest of the association from their own personal best interest.

What programs or business ventures does a potential member have that may compromise their ability to put the association first? After a member discloses conflicts will they remove themselves from votes or decisions they may benefit from? You must be able to believe that the person on the board represents the best interests of the association, your association, and not what benefits them personally.

What leadership and vision does a person possess? While many members may bring specific skills to the board from their life experience ask yourself what kind of a leadership skills they will bring to the association. What is the vision they hold for the association? Where do they see the association in 1 year, 3 years and 10 years? And more importantly what do they propose to do to make those things happen. It is easy to say we need to be more efficient or have better programs but bringing forth ideas to make those things happen is something totally different. And often more challenging is getting the board to agree to those ideas so they can become reality. Leadership is a skill that is seriously lacking in our society today. It is a skill that is important to rally fellow board members around a goal and get those board members to embrace it and move it forward. Equally important is the ability to get the general membership motivated to rally behind programs that are put forth so that there is support and buy in, without this nothing will be successful.

Will the person devote the time necessary to the position and will they have the courage the make tough decisions. There most certainly will be pressures to make decisions from friends, fellow board members and membership at large. Is the person strong enough to make the right decision under these conditions?

How does the director view the association and how does this align with your views? What programs do they support and how do they propose to make changes? Do you feel the director understands what it takes to lead the association forward; do they have the skills needed? Does a director have values similar to yours? Can they relate to you and your ranch? Do they understand your needs?

Important questions that are seldom asked: Which, if any, members owe the director money directly related to the industry and who does the director owe money to directly related to industry? Stated another way, are there any financial obligations between board members, or between board members and others in the industry, which might influence that board member’s actions? Will a Director steer clear of influence from outstanding financial obligations and declare conflicts of interest that may arise.

In closing take the time to formulate an opinion as to what you believe your association should be. Then take the time to ask the questions necessary to find what members fit the bill. Hopefully this thought process will help you to better understand your organization and help you to make decision for its future. If you do not devote the time to the process you may not like the results.


Thursday, March 18, 2010

Why EPDs are essential to the Alpaca Industry

You have heard many people speak on EPDs now for several years, me included. Animal scientists such as Dr. Brett Kaysen have spoken on the necessity of an industry wide EPD program for alpacas. What I would like to focus on is how they will help both the Alpaca Industry as a whole and breeders individually. Let me digress to the beginning by stating I am referring to an industry wide EPD program open to any breeder and controlled by the Registry and/or Breed Association. It is my belief this program is the ARI EPD program.

Livestock breeding is a challenge and given all the available tools there will always be some uncertainty, we have all figured this out in our own breeding program I am sure. With the religious use of all tools available, most notably EPDs, even then it does not always work as planned. However, without the use of one of the most effective tools available, EPDs, the chance of success diminishes. We all need to understand that EPDs are not perfect and their accuracy will never be 100%. Bear in mind that each trait will have an accuracy number associated with it that will part of the data. It is important we understand what this number tells us. As the number of animals in the database grows the accuracy should go up however, some traits will have accuracies higher than others even with large numbers. This is expected and should not discourage us from embracing EPDs. Even though some traits will have lower accuracies the data is very valuable and usable.

While data is important and in my opinion EPDs are the best tool available to me as a breeder the importance of EPDs goes far beyond just making better breeding decisions. What makes EPDs important to the industry is that they create a level playing field for all breeders in terms of being able to assess individual animal data on a trait by trait basis and make those results available to all breeders worldwide. With a searchable EPD database herd size and marketing budgets become much less of a factor in promoting an animal or breeding program as the data is available to all breeders equally. More than any other marketing or promotion tool EPDs will provide more accurate information to both new and existing breeders and it will have the advantage of providing that information on an animal by animal and trait by trait basis. Remember, as much as I support and encourage the use of EPDs they are not perfect nor can they be the only tool we use. As breeders we must never forget to use phenotypic evaluation of the animal, EPDs cannot replace this. This was a mistake that other breeds made and we must learn from it and not repeat it. Also, the value of pedigree and show winnings must be factored into our decisions as they will always remain important.

The second advantage of an industry wide EPD program with a searchable database is to attract farmers and ranchers from traditional livestock species. EPDs are what they are used to and what they will demand to consider diversifying their operations with Alpacas. Keep in mind EPDs are not new, they have been in use with traditional species for over 40 years. With the success and enthusiasm of alpacas at the National Western Stock Show, thank you GWAS, mainstream animal agriculture has its eyes on our industry. EPDs will be a vital part of convincing those breeders that we are here to stay as a legitimate livestock species.

What do we need to do? I think both the Breed Association, AOBA, and individual breeders need to rally behind the ARI EPD program support it and more importantly use it. If you agree with this I encourage you to support ARI by taking the following steps. First, submit fiber samples to Yocom-McColl Fiber Testing Laboratory under the ARI EPD program and log on to your ARI account then entry data for user entered traits on your own herd, there are instructions on the ARI site. Second, contact ARI board members and express your support for the program and your hope that a data run can be complete as soon as possible and a fully searchable database will be available to everyone.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A New Beginning

Anyone who knows me knows I have opinions about most things.  This will be a place where I can share my opinions with anyone who cares to listen.  I am sure we will not agree on all subjects however the exchange will be interesting.

Currently I am a Board Member with the Alpaca Owners and Breeders Association and I want to make this very clear that I do not speak for the board or AOBA.  Postings here are my own thoughts and only my own thoughts and opinions.  They do not represent the board nor AOBA.

Let me know what you think about the posted topics as well as suggest a topic that you would like discussed.  Thank you for reading through my blog and I hope some of the posts to come will be useful and thought provoking.