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Grey and Roan Alpacas

Grey and roan are a combination of any colour and white. Unlike the white spotting or pinto (multi) genes, the white hair is distributed throughout the coat.  As this description applies to both grey and roan, what is the difference? The Alpaca Association of New Zealand gives no guidance on this, and not only does not have a registration classification for a silver roan, it combines all roans with rose greys. Grey and roan are both colour “patterns”, in the same manner as pintos (multis), they are not truly colours.  Despite their similarity, they are genetically different, and for clarity, I will refer to genetically grey alpacas as “Classic Greys”

Classic greys are  coloured alpaca with white markings on the head, neck and legs, and  white hairs that are distributed throughout the coat. Combining the classic grey gene with black gives you silver grey, combining it with brown or fawn gives you rose grey.

Rose Grey alpaca

Classic Rose Grey

Classic Silver Grey

Classic Silver Grey

 

Roans have a totally different genetic makeup – they do not have white markings, and normally appear to be a solid black, brown or fawn alpaca until you part the fleece and discover the white hair distributed through it. They also typically have better fibre than classic greys, and often win grey classes when shown because of this. Fortunately, AANZ are now intending to trial splitting grey and roan classes in shows – all grey owners should give this their support! However, there has been no genetic  studies to prove whether roan alpacas are genetically roan or simply have colour contamination. However the fact that colour development  occurs in a regular pattern on all roans argues there is a roan gene, although how it works (recessive, dominant etc) has not been established. In any case, they do not have the visual appeal of true greys. Without studies  on the roan pattern, how the gene works is, as yet unknown – only that it is NOT classic grey.

Roans are typically born solid coloured, with the white developing through their coat as they grow (known as “roaning out”). Adults usually appear solid coloured, with the white fibre only apparent when the fleece is opened. Many roans are mis-registered as a solid colour, (because they were, at the time they were registered), and other roans are mis-registered as grey, because of confusion amongst about the registration classification, and of the difference both genetically and visually between the two.

 

 

 

Apparently a solid brown, this alpaca is actually a roan

Apparently a solid brown, this alpaca is actually a roan

Visually a fawn alpaca, she is actually a roan

Visually a fawn alpaca, she is actually a roan

 

Both these alpacas are roan, however all need to have their fleece parted in order to see the white hairs in their fleece. They also typically have no other white markings. They are often an “odd” shade of brown, as in the alpaca on the left

 

Classic greys always have some degree of white markings on their face, legs, and often down the front of their necks (tuxedo).They  normally are visibly grey (although there are exceptions to this I will consider later).  Classic Grey is a dominant, semi-lethal gene, so  there must be at least one grey parent, although dominant white may mask this colour. Being dominant means, if an animal is grey, it will look grey (apart from the exception already mentioned). Semi-lethal means, if a foetus inherits a grey gene from both parents (a risk you take when both parents are grey), it cannot live, and will die very early on in the pregnancy. In other words, all classic greys have only one grey gene, so when mating grey to grey, and resulting grey cria has inherited only one grey gene, from either dam or sire. This is also why mating grey to grey can give you a non-grey cria.  A classic grey is born grey, although some silver grey cria have brown tipping similar to many black cria. This gives them the appearance of being rose grey, but as with blacks, after about 3 months of age, the true silver grey colour can be seen underneath, and after shearing the alpaca will remain silver grey for the rest of its life. Also, most greys have black or brown spots, which can be quite large.

Classic Grey is also extremely variable in its expression. This means a genetically grey alpaca may have only a few white hairs (minimal expression), or may have more white hair than coloured (Extreme expression). These alpacas may not be recognised as grey – they look like a coloured alpaca, and this often explains the instances when a grey cria is born to two apparently non-grey parents. Grey alpacas with minimal expression still exhibit white markings.

Silver Grey with Extreme Expression

Silver Grey with Extreme Expression

Rose Grey with minimal expression

Rose Grey with minimal expression

Rose grey with minimal expression

Rose grey with minimal expression

Prudence -This apparently brown eyed white alpaca always bred exactly as a silver grey would.  As her dam is grey, she herself could be grey with extreme expression of the white hairs. Or, as her sire is white, she could be grey masked by dominant white. However, mated to coloured sires, her cria were also coloured, indicating she is not dominant white. White markings on her non-grey offspring also indicate she has white markings hidden by her white coat. Panache -This apparently brown alpaca produced a silver grey cria when mated to a black. Her pedigree supports the possibility she could be grey, and the cria proves she is. Panache has  minimal grey expression, with white hairs restricted to her tail, and some visible on her legs as a cria, which disappeared as she grew. Yulia – This apparently fawn female with white markings has a lot of grey alpaca in her pedigree, and has proved she is in fact grey, by producing a silver grey cria. Grey around her muzzle is the only indication she is a grey – again, this is minimal expression of the grey gene. Her lighter neck colour has only appeared with age, also typical of a grey.

Yulias brown daughter – or is she rose grey?

Yulias brown daughter – or is she rose grey?

Silver grey son of Prudence

Silver grey son of Prudence

Dark silver gray son of Pandora

Dark silver gray son of Pandora

Silver grey son of Yulia

Silver grey son of Yulia

 

Both classic grey and roan continue to develop their colour as they age, as the amount of white hairs in fibre increases. Roans start to show colour development at about 6 months, and greys also lighten in colour as they mature

Eclipse at 1 day old - a dark grey

Eclipse at 1 day old – a dark grey

Silver grey son of Yulia

Eclipse at 3 years old – light – medium grey 

As you can see, all these factors make grey a challenging colour to breed!

Because any grey is heterozygous (has only 1 grey gene) – remember an embryo with 2 grey genes will die shortly after conception – any mating has as much chance of producing a non-grey cria as a grey one. Most non-grey cria will also have white spotting , and this must be accepted as a by-product of breeding greys. Such cria are usually very pretty and much in demand as pets. And of course, some may be grey with minimal expression – but you won’t know that until you breed them!

So what should you mate your greys to? Mating grey to grey results in a lowered rate of pregnancy, but a pregnancy will give you a 70% chance of a grey cria. However, most greys lag behind other colours in conformation and fibre development (micron and crimp), so breeding grey to grey is unlikely to result in an improvement in your greys in both fibre and appearance.

Most breeders who have studied greys agree the best choice is mating greys to either blacks (for silver greys) or browns (for rose greys).  Both these matings will give you a 50% chance of a grey cria , with a higher chance of a successful pregnancy, and by selecting good quality solid brown or black animals as an outcross to your grey, you can also work on improving the quality of your greys.

Because a silver grey is essentially a black alpaca with a grey gene, silver greys only occur when they inherit black from both parents. Unlike grey, black is a recessive gene (a black alpaca has inherited a black gene from each of its parents). Black can therefore be “carried”, resulting in black cria from 2 non-black parents. In a similar manner, it is possible to get silver greys from a rose grey mated to a black, or even a rose grey and a brown, where black is in the background of both alpaca.

Again, very little is known about the genetics of roan alpacas, but possibly it is a recessive gene. However, if a dominant, there may be many low grade (minimal expression) roans out there who are simply disregarded as “colour contaminated” The effect of mating roan to classic grey is also unknown, however if roan is a separate gene, blue-eyed whites are a likely result

The relationship of blue-eyed white to greys and white spotted alpacas is too complex for this article, and I recommend you read our article –  Blue eyed whites, not as black as they are painted.

Briefly, blue-eyed white is not an inheritable colour, but is the result of an embryo inheriting multiple forms of white spotting, such as grey + white spotting. In order to avoid blue-eyed whites being born you should avoid the following matings:

  1. Do not mate greys to white-spotted animals, or to solid whites.
  2. Do not mate blue eyed whites to greys
  3. Do not mate white spotted animals to other white spotted animals
  4. Do not mate white spotted animals to multi or fancy animals,
  5. Do not repeat a mating which produces even one blue eyed white.