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.

No comments:

Post a Comment