A North Okanagan Alpaca breeder is going to great lengths to ensure his animals produce the finest fleece possible.
This spring, Alphons Gradosch, who owns and operates the Canadian Okanagan Alpaca Ranch on Buchanan Road in Coldstream with his wife, Wendy are preparing to launch an embryo transfer program.
“We’ll mate them and try to collect the embryos and implant them into other (less valuable) female alpacas who serve as surrogate mothers,” he explained.
This embryo collection takes place under sedation and is done entirely non-surgically. The recipient female is also sedated for non-surgical transfer of the embryo directly into her uterus.
The process, he continued, allows him to substantially increase the fertility rate in his 70-strong herd of Huacaya alpacas, the amount of fleece being produced, and ultimately, its quality.
“Alpacas typically give birth once a year and they are pregnant for 11.5 months — that means it takes generations to grow a heard with fleece we can shear.”
With embryo transfer, Gradosch, a retired surgeon, said he can yield anywhere from six to eight cria (baby alpacas) per year.
That fleece, he added is manufactured into luxury alpaca products, which are sold through his daughter company, COKAL Alpaca Products.
For Gradosch, producing a bigger herd also allows an enviable level of biosecurity.
“With each transfer, we track the DNA, which gives us the opportunity to determine which alpacas are producing the highest quality fleece and allow the high-value camelids to be bred again, so we are only manufacturing the highest quality product.”
He said this process could potentially have an impact on the genetic improvement of an entire herd — it’s not genetic engineering, but certainly more than natural selection.
And while it is unique, he said embryo transfer procedures are fairly common among breeders.