WHAT IS S.H.I.P.

The Suri Herd Improvement Program gives us concrete, objective data about our individual herds and the opportunity to advance our national herd using that data for our breeding and purchasing decisions.



PRESERVATION

The SURI NETWORK has been devoted to the


“Preservation of the Suri Phenotype – Fiber and Alpaca”


since its inception with the development and implementation of various programs as a service to its membership and for Suri owners worldwide. 


These programs are encompassed in the Suri Herd Improvement Program, titled as S.H.I.P.

VISION

To Preserve, Protect and Promote the Suri alpaca is the
purpose of the Suri Network.


To become the world’s leader in Suri alpaca genetics and the world’s leading producer of the ultimate natural fiber is the Suri Network’s goal for the U.S. Suri industry.


How to Participate

The link below will take you to the Procedures page. 


Procedure


THE HISTORY OF S.H.I.P.

To achieve the above goals, Suri breeders have looked to a livestock industry model as being the most likely path to a sustainable industry that can achieve these ends. In devising a road map for achieving these goals the Suri Network has already taken a number of steps:  

First, in 2005-2006 a Suri Breed Standard was developed and approved by a large majority of breeders. The breed standard was reveiwed and modified in 2016 and ultimately approved by a large majority of the SN membership.

Second, based on the positive and negative Suri traits identified in the breed standard, a Classification System was developed that assigns a score from 1-5 for each of sixteen traits, eight each for fiber traits and eight for phenotypic/conformation traits. This system was tested and presented in a ‘hands on’ format to the membership at three yearly symposiums. It has now been used to classify over 1600 Suris at some 30 or more Suri farms.


Third, the Suri Network is collecting as many fiber test results as possible to add to our database. Breeders are being encouraged to submit to Suri Network any and all fiber testresults that have been done on their Suris along with an ARI certificate so we can correlate these objective fiber tests with classification fiber scores.

uri Network has long advocated that members collect and record as much data as possible on their animals. In making this information available to Suri Network you will assist the network in developing the largest phenotypic and fiber database on Suri alpacas in the world.

Fourth, the Suri Network has strongly advocated the development of properly derived and reliable EPD calculations to assist breeders in making more informed and predictable breeding decisions. Seeing limitations in ARI’s EPD program for Suri breeders, the Suri Network has continued to pursue these critical issues and has developed a program that overcomes those limitations.


Fifth, parameters of commercially valuable Suri fiber traits and heritabilities were defined in conjunction with information from Dr. Carlo Renieri and Marco Antonini – University of Camarino, Italy. There was also collaboration with Renzo Morante, DVM, manager of the Pacomarca Experimental Alpaca Farm in Peru and Juan Pablo Gutierrez. PhD Animal Science, University of Madrid, Spain who presented his research paper on fiber trait heritabilities at the Suri Network Symposium in 2011.



The Five Pieces Come Together

Bringing all five of these pieces together to create a pathway to breeding and industry success is an important priority within the Suri Network’s Long Range Plan. Separately each piece is important, but when combined into a system, they have the potential to empower Suri breeders to accomplish great strides toward our goals of excellence and sustainability.


Our industry faces challenging hurdles to both short as well as long-term success and the Suri Network Board feels that establishing this pathway will be a tremendous benefit to members. As Suri Network looked at developing EPDs
for our members we realized that simply providing breeders with a number that expressed the potential for changing the value of a specific trait, an EPD value, was not going to accomplish what breeders really needed in order to improve
their breeding results or their financial success as breeders. They needed an integrated plan that includes guidance on how to gather and utilize the information available to them.


In any industry during challenging times there is one thing that always seems to hold true; as expressed by Brett Kaysen at the 2012 Suri Symposium, “Quality sells and Quality endures”. What could be truer of the Suri alpaca industry
today? Alpaca is a luxury fiber.


As an alpaca breeder you are already in the top tier of the natural fibers business. Recently, world prices for alpaca fiber have been at the upper end of their historical ranges. Isn't it time for us to fully embrace the fact that we are producers of the best luxury fiber in the world, not blue ribbons?


So how do we capitalize on the progress this industry has achieved in the past 25 years and move up to the next level?

“Regardless of species or a specific trait within specie, to ensure sustained permanent genetic progress there must be a comprehensive genetic program put in place.”

This observation by Justin Fix PhD, VP Global Technical Services for NSR, succinctly states the mission of the Suri Network Suri Herd Improvement Program, SHIP! This plan is modeled after similar programs in many commercially successful livestock breed associations. SHIP is the Suri industries’ pathway to both individual success and also to the long-term success of our industry!

The Suri Network set about finding expertise to help collect data on traits, calculate EPD and EBV records, analyze that data and provide technical support. After issuing a Request for Proposals and reviewing the bids competitively, the Suri Network selected Justin Fix and Clint Schwab at the National Swine Registry (NSR) and the National Swine Improvement Federation (NSIF) with Purdue University. This group collects data from four major breeds, records measurement data on over twenty traits and calculates EPD and EBV records on over one million animals daily. The experience and expertise that they bring to this project is impressive and we believe they can very capably handle our program needs for years to come.



A Closer Look

Let’s look a little closer at step number one, the Suri Breed Standard .  To achieve success you need to have a clear idea of what success will look like when you get there, in other words, a target. It seems obvious that this should come first. If you are going to embark on a determined effort to make “sustained permanent genetic progress” toward improving particular traits you want to be certain that you are improving the correct traits and have chosen the correct targets.


Establishing the breed standard was a very big step toward long-term success and something Suri Network members should be proud to have accomplished. Absent this step, there is risk that purposeful change could be made in the wrong direction! There are historical precedents in livestock history where this happened with unanticipated consequences. Obviously this is something we want to avoid. Genetic change is made by increasing or decreasing the prevalence of certain genes or gene combinations in a population of animals  and when undertaking an endeavor to do so it is important to be aiming in the proper direction.


Not only does Suri Network have a breed standard but at the time the standard was adopted a mechanism was established for periodic review and if necessary refinement of the standard. This process is the function of the Suri Network Breed Standards Council, a group of breeders whose purpose is to monitor the standard for relevance and if necessary recommend refinements that may be necessary in the future.  This group met in 2016 and proposed the changes that were lated adopted by the membership.

Now that we are starting to accumulate data through SHIP the Council will have information to review that will begin to indicate how the U.S. Suri population is performing relative to the breed standard. At the time it was written the standard was designed to be more of a guideline than a detailed or gold standard. As more information is collected it may be appropriate in the future to be more detailed in regards to certain points, especially in reference to fiber traits.

Established in August 2007, the Suri Network Breed Standards Council has been inactive for the past several years as there was little information to review or need for any actions. It was reactivated at the 2012 Symposium as it is anticipated that there will be a need for discussions now that the first analysis of SHIP data is being undertaken. If any recommendations are made by the council they are subject to review and approval by both the Board and the membership. Changes should not be necessary very often and, when suggested, should be well thought out, researched, and include input from all stakeholders who might be impacted by any changes to the standard.

​Let’s consider in more detail step two, the Suri Classification System, initially discussed and formulated by the Executive Committee of the Advisory Council at meetings in 2007 and 2008.


Model trials were conducted in 2008-2010 on 7-10 herds and modifications were made in the process. Hands-on workshops demonstrating the herd Classification Process and procedures were conducted at Suri Symposiums in 2009, 2010 and 2011 and were well attended by members at the event.


A training program was developed for classifiers to assist in developing a uniform result from herd evaluations. In conjunction with the Suri Network office a format for data recording was developed to facilitate efficient and uniform reporting and recording of results. A standard process for scheduling and conducting an event was established and the Suri Network Board developed a budget and authorized a limited subsidy to assist breeders to cover expenses for herds to be classified.

Step three, fiber test results…..

Why is this part of SHIP when ARI already does this? Yes they do, but they are not running EPDs on CV which is arguably the most important measured variable of commercial importance to Suri fiber quality. Suri Network is encouraging you to do histograms on all your Suris and to include your test results in the Suri Network fiber test database.  At a minimum, testing is recommended at the first and second shearings and then sporadically, perhaps every other year, after that. Some farms test every year and it is important to continue testing on older animals so we can identify those bloodlines that maintain desirable fiber attributes as they age.


Do not underestimate the importance of fiber testing in a breeding program, especially a seed stock program! We ask that all participants in SHIP sign a release authorizing the testing lab to send a copy of your test results to the Suri Network office for inclusion in the database. The cost, if any, of this  information transfer is born by Suri Network.


In addition to fiber tests done on animals that are part of SHIP, Suri Network would like to collect as much fiber information as we can, both current and past, so if you want to help out then also ask your testing lab to send Suri Network any and all test results they have ever done on animals from your farm. If there are test results from animals not in SHIP, Suri Network will need a copy of the ARI certificate or an alternate identification and pedigree on those animals. 

Why collect all this fiber data? Believe it or not, we cannot, at this time, answer the following question: What is the average fiber diameter of Suri alpaca fiber harvested in the U.S.? We have no idea! Suri breeders in the U.S. might be producing an abundance of Royal Baby Suri fiber and the world marketplace would never know that it existed or be able to find it! We currently have no way to answer this question, nowhere we can go to get any clues as to what that is.


Is such information important if we are expecting to develop a successful fiber industry here? You bet it is! So Suri Network is beginning to develop a database that will eventually be able to address that and similar questions regarding fiber quality and quantity produced by our members. We feel strongly that information such as this will be very important in the future to maximizing the financial potential of our member’s herds.

If our goal is to be the best in the world we need a way to track our progress toward that target and to know when we have reached it. In the future, probably next year, we will start to have participating farms also report the fleece weights. This, and more, is important information to track. 



First we grow it, then we show it

SHIP will dramatically help our industry to move forward toward realizing the objectives stated at the beginning of this article and it would not be too bold to say that without a program like this we will not achieve anything nearly so impressive. Why? Because if we can reach those goals and have data to prove it, then we can capture a larger and larger market share of the luxury natural fiber market.  First we grow it, then we show it to the world so they know we have it. We obviously have some time to go to make these things a reality, but there is no doubt they are possible with industry-wide acceptance and application of SHIP.



What do we know so far?

The initial data sent to Justin Fix for analysis included complete classification record sets on 902 Suris. This does not include fiber test scores as many of those records are incomplete.

Before we actually do EPDs another 200-300 records will be included as additional herds are being classified on an ongoing basis.

Suri Network chose five traits for the initial analytic phase. Four fleece characteristics selected were:

• Natural Luster

• Fineness
• Handle
• Uniformity of Micron

One phenotypic trait was selected: Fore and Rear Legs.


Heritabilities were found to be moderate based on initial estimates and were felt to have potential to improve these classification traits. These heritability values are similar to values found in various livestock selection programs that have proven to result in dramatic genetic trends for many years. Heritability of the fore and rear leg conformation was lower but still offered potential for genetic improvement. “Overall, these initial analyses offer promise for the potential of genetic improvement within Suri classification traits, if implemented into a selection program.” (Justin Fix)

​For a complete summary of Preliminary Genetic Analysis see the  report from Justin Fix.



Using the data

How do breeders use the data collected from SHIP to improve their breeding selection? There are several ways to address this question.

The database is searchable and open to any S.H.I.P participant to utilize.  You can  find the database by clicking the tab Data on this website.

Even with the relatively small numbers of animals we are working with at this point the amount of data is impressive and for some daunting. Making sense of all these numbers and using them to best advantage requires the ability to search and arrange data in a meaningful manner.​


The online database allows participants to search the data for information in a way that will help them to use the Classification information to their best advantage. There is a video tutorial on how to use this function on the Data page.

You can use this function to search and arrange the data from your own herd. For instance, within your herd, you could rank the herd for a certain trait such as Luster by searching with the appropriate parameters and generate a list that shows your herd ranked top to bottom by their Luster scores.


This allows you to identify the best animals for any particular trait or list of traits when making selection decisions for breeding. You can also use the search function to look for certain animals in the entire SHIP program. For example, suppose you are looking for an outside breeding and are only interested in males with scores above 4.5 for Luster, Fineness, and Handle, etc. Enter those criteria in the search and a list will be generated. Once the Suris of interest are found, you can use the ARI numbers to look up pedigree information in the Alpaca Registry.

SHIP is a new program and will grow and evolve as members get more experience and understanding of how useful it can be to them and to the industry. The greater the level of participation the more impact this program will have.



How does a classification work?

The process starts when a breeder completes an application for classification.  This can be found on the Forms page.  Make sure you read and understand the costs associated with the program.  If you have questions, call the Suri Network office and talk to Cindy. Cindy will answer any questions about costs, policies and procedures. Then, a classification is scheduled on-site at the breeder’s farm/ranch.

 

A trained and authorized classifier from Suri Network goes to the breeder’s farm/ranch and, by agreement to participate in SHIP, does a hands-on evaluation of each and every Suri in the herd, all of them, the great ones and the not so great ones. Most, but perhaps not all of us, have a few of these. This is a crucial strength of the SHIP program and very important to its ultimate success.

Breeders are encouraged to participate both as animal handlers as well as to learn from comments made by classifiers as they discuss what qualities they are looking for in each trait.


By ranking all of the breeder’s Suris, the breeder and everyone else using this data gets a much truer picture of the variety and potential within the herd and in the larger group of all animals within the program.

EPDs calculated on such an inclusive database will be more accurate and reliable than would otherwise be the case. For those who choose not to register non-breeding alpacas, there is even a mechanism to include them in the program for one generation by using an alternative form of identification. (Breeding animals cannot be included unless registered.)




Each animal is scored from 1 (lowest) up to 5 (highest) in 0.5 increments on sixteen different traits. There are eight fiber traits such as luster, handle, uniformity, fineness as well as eight phenotypic traits such as profile/balance, front and rear legs, movement, etc. A complete listing and a sample scorecard can be found at www.surinetwork.org.

A total score as well as an average for all traits is given and your herd is ranked for you from top to bottom based on the average scores. It is important to note that no average is calculated for your overall farm score as it would serve no purpose for the program.

Some breeders may put off having their herds classified until they can get their lower end animals sold and off the farm. In fact, doing a classification can really help breeders identify those lower end Suris, which will help breeders be clear on which ones that should not play an important role in their breeding programs.

When the classification is completed the breeder is given a copy of all the scores and a copy is sent to the Suri Network office for recording into the SHIP database.




What's in it for you, a Suri breeder?

If you feel that there is value in having an independent assessment of each and every one of your animals to see if your evaluation of them is close to reality then the cost of this event is well worth it.


For comparison, how much would it cost to take every one of them to a show and have it done there in the show ring? And, if you did this at a show, what kind of feedback or report would you get and how useful would all those ribbons be to you unless you knew very clearly why you won them? What about those animals that were not placed? Does that mean those animals have no qualities that are important in your program?

A classification report provides you so much more information! All Suris have their strong and weak points as the perfect one has yet to be created.​

Let’s say that you are a small breeder in Small Town, USA who can’t afford to go to lots of shows and doesn’t have a
large marketing budget. 

What if you have produced on your farm a male that scores 4.7s or better in all traits and has outstanding EPD value
for improving many of those traits in his offspring.

 

How is anyone going to find out about what you have to offer? Without being part of SHIP, would you even recognize what an outstanding Suri you actually had? As part of SHIP he would stand out not only to you but to anyone who searched the data base looking for such a male to breed to or purchase!

Accomplishing that on your own would be very difficult and expensive. The same holds true for larger breeders who, in difficult financial times, have cut marketing budgets and are much more discriminating in their purchase of genetics, be it breeding or outright purchase of a stud.

SHIP levels the playing field for all breeders, large and small. As more and more breeders and buyers come to expect access to all of this data however, those who do not participate will see the value in doing so too.



Making Better Decisions

How will SHIP help members to make better breeding decisions, better selection choices in matching sires and dams?

The simple answer is that it gives us much more phenotypic information on which to base that decision. Information such as the classification scores; both overall scores and scores on 16 different traits, that can influence that decision.

Putting these scores side by side with fiber test scores, we are encouraged to consider the sum of information in making these decisions. It also puts those scores in a format that makes the information easy to utilize, not just a confusing mass of data. SHIP allows us to search through all of the Suris in the SHIP program to find a potential match if we can’t find one of our own.

Once we do our first EPD calculations we will have a good idea about how much a particular male might improve the offspring of a particular female. Mating animals in this way can significantly improve our outcomes.


SHIP can empower us to become the world’s leader in Suri genetics. Some have been advocating for utilizing ET, Embryo Transfer, to multiply and accelerate genetic gains. With the proper scenario, one in which we are very certain we are using the best sires and dams, one that is guided be a program like SHIP, embryo transfer might indeed accelerate genetic gains. Lacking the data provided by SHIP, we might run the risk of multiplying the wrong genetics and taking steps backward, not forward. Now is the time to get some experience with SHIP and the valuable tools it provide us before we hook up with advanced reproductive technology to accelerate genetic gains.​




Other Benefits

How else can utilizing SHIP help you become a better more successful Suri breeder?

Breeders who are serious about being in the seed stock business must be able to correctly identify their top tier of females as well as males. Breeders can’t afford to let barn blindness, show ribbons or even their own hype result in concentrating limited resources on reproducing the wrong group of animals.

By all means breeders can do this on their own, or even disagree with the scoring of a trained classifier. But, for the average Suri breeder and even more experienced ones, having a second opinion from a trained evaluator can be invaluable.

In order to reach the goal of world leader in genetics as an industry, we must focus increased attention to breeding the top tier Suris and cutting back on the next level in our seed stock herds. Optimally seed stock breeders should be using both males with average scores in the 4.5 – 5.0 range and females in the 4.2 – 5.0 range with fiber stats commensurate with the goal of improving upon any weaknesses in either the sire or dams measured values.

​Preferred values for fiber parameters will vary somewhat by age but AFD should be 20-26 or finer. We should be aiming for CVs less than 20% and SD less than 6.


Multiplier/production stock should fall somewhere in the 3.3 – 4.1 range for average overall scores. These values are only guidelines and there will always be Suris with exceptional individual scores who have proven their ability to enhance individual traits of high value in their offspring or those with lower overall scores who are known to consistently produce offspring quite superior to themselves and will be kept within seed stock herds for those reasons. These recommendations are simply guidelines to assist our members to improve their results. Every Suri has value for something and SHIP will assist breeders in identifying the strengths of each and every one.

Suri Network encourages you to participate, learn, and benefit from everything this program has to offer.

 

To apply for classification, complete the application form found on the Forms page.  Any questions an be directed through the Suri Network office or to Tim Sheets who is the Suri Network Board liaison to SHIP,  or Linda Kondris who is the SHIP Program Director.

For a list of approved classifiers and a program organization chart see the  SHIP Team   


  


  Suri Network
P.O. Box 1984
Estes Park, Colorado   80517
Phone: (970) 586-5876
Fax: (970) 591-0007

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