So what is (and is not) a gray alpaca? Part 1
by Neil Padgett MD MPH, A Paca Fun Farm
Most of us would agree that this is a gray alpaca.
But how about these?
Before I begin a discussion of what a gray alpaca is, I have to warn you there is probably no single clear definition. Part of the reason for this is there is more than one pattern of gray. Another part of the reason is the physical expression of a genetically gray alpaca is often incomplete.
A third reason is, given the popularity of "gray", alpacas of every color or pattern have been bred together in an attempt to produce gray offspring. This has mixed the genetics of tuxedo grays, dark headed roans, harlequins, other roans, and non-grays that happen to have more than a single fiber color in their blanket. In short, genetic chaos.
Observe alpacas entered as gray in AOBA halter shows. Typically there are quite a few tuxedo grays, a couple of dark headed roans, an occasional harlequin..........and a significant number of other alpacas whose pattern or color defy easy description.
So what is a gray alpaca?
Perhaps the best way to begin a discussion about gray alpacas is to describe what constitutes gray fleece.
The definition of gray fleece has varied in AOBA rules over the past few years, but basically silver gray fleece is a mixture of black, white and gray fibers. Rose gray is a mixture of "red" (beige through maroon), and white fibers with black fibers sometimes present but not required.
Take the fleece off the animal and defining gray is quite manageable. The problem arises when you try to define the alpaca that is producing the gray fleece. Many types of alpacas can produce what could be described a gray fleece. Only some of these gray fleeced alpacas have the genetics that will produce similar cria.
So which alpacas produce gray fleece?
Broadly speaking, we can divide gray alpacas into those with and without patterns. There are at least 3 different patterns seen in gray fleeced alpacas. These are defined below.
This is the most common and easily recognized gray alpaca. Pictured is a "classic" tuxedo gray with a fully expressed pattern. Clearly seen is the complete and distinctive tuxedo gray pattern; white face and bonnet (brow), white down the front of the neck (tuxedo), and white socks.
Tuxedo gray can also appear as an incomplete pattern. Sometimes tuxedo grays have only the white face and bonnet, or white face with a hint of tuxedo and no white socks, etc. Pictured below is a full patterned classic tuxedo dam and her gray cria. The cria's fleece is completely gray, but she lacks white socks or a tuxedo. She does have white on her face, but not the full white face and bonnet that is seen in her dam.
Tuxedo gray occurs both as silver gray and rose gray, and appears to be a dominant genetic trait.
Dark headed roan
This is a second pattern of gray alpaca that can produce cria exactly like themselves. There have been various names applied to this pattern, including black headed roan, black tipped gray , and even "salt and pepper". Since the pattern appears with both a black and red base, for simplicity sake I'll refer to it a dark headed roan.
Dark headed roans typically have no white on them. Their blankets are gray shading to dark on the head, face, and sometimes down the neck. The distinctive pattern may not appear until the animal is a yearling or older.
Unlike the tuxedo pattern, dark headed roans produce cria that look like their parents much less frequently, suggesting that this pattern may be a recessive trait.
A third distinct pattern of gray alpaca has been termed harlequin. One way to think about harlequin grays is as a kind of extreme appaloosa. These grays are covered with many spots and speckles, giving them their characteristic spotted face and solid gray fleece.
Harlequins do not appear to be a dominant pattern, and like dark headed roans are much less common than tuxedo grays.
Though tuxedo grays, dark headed roans and harlequins make up the majority of grays shown in the AOBA show system, there are quite a few gray alpacas that don't fit into any of these three defined patterns. Patternless grays may be created from distinct genetics, or may be the result of a genetic mish-mash that won't be inheritable, or perhaps won't be easily inheritable.
Roan has not been formally defined as it applies to alpacas, but might be thought of as a generally even mixture of white and pigmented fiber that does not fade with age. Patternless roans are often seen in rose gray classes, sometimes making up the majority of those classes . Roan does seem to be genetically distinct, and may be a recessive trait.
There is currently no color division designated as "roan" in the AOBA show system. Instead, AOBA uses the term "indefinite" for alpacas with both light and dark fibers in their fleece. Indefinite is broadly defined as alpacas with two distinct colors mixed throughout the blanket with the primary color not gray. Indefinite is a broader term than roan, allowing for predominantly light fleece with a minority of dark fibers, or the reverse.
An unresolved problem for the AOBA show system is where to draw the line between "gray" and "indefinite". Compare the two definitions and you will see that they overlap.
This confusion in definition leaves breeders with a problem. Given the overlap in definitions, and the lack of an indefinite category in the Alpaca Registry, alpaca owners with a new cria having, say, both maroon and light colored fiber and the absence of pattern will often register that cria as gray. If that cria is later shown it will often be shown as gray.
AND....................(bringing thing full circle) take the fleece off such an indefinite alpaca and most likely said fleece will be entered as gray in a fleece show!
Which brings us back to the question, what is gray?
In a nutshell, by examination of many pictorial pedigrees, by understanding the various ways that patterned and patternless grays present themselves through their offspring, and by thoughtful and lively discussion, that is what we hope to find out.
Please join us in helping to define gray. Enter your gray breeding results in the database.