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.