What Makes Suris Special?
WHAT MAKES SURIS SPECIAL?
Of all the graceful and fanciful creatures in the world, the Suri Alpaca ranks first in my mind’s eye. But it wasn’t always so….
I grew up as a dyed-in-the-wool (ok, pun intended) horse fanatic. When I was a kid, plastic horses lined my toy shelf, and horses galloped across on my bedroom walls. I read every horse-oriented novel I could get my hands on. I still have the entire Black Stallion series, My Friend Flicka, and a biography of Man O’War—some things are just staples in a girl’s library.
My life as an alpaca breeder actually began because of my horse. I bought rural property so I could have Herman at home, and now I have 25 acres and over 200 alpacas. Go figure!
My first three alpacas were huacayas. They were sweet fuzzy creatures that amused me and taught me how to take care of them. But then saw my first suris. There they were, strutting around the show ring, their fiber glistening in the light, locks swinging with each stride—absolute poetry in motion! I was a goner from that point on. I began planning how to buy my first suri, and the rest is history.
So, what makes Suris special? What’s the fuss?
Andy Tillman summarized it perfectly when we asked him why he raised suris. “For art”, he smiled. Oh, I suppose economics plays a part too…. Something that is fine and rare always draws a premium price.
The thing that sets a suri apart is its LUSTER. The fiber is unique among fleece-producing animals because the sheen carries right into the finished garment. Have you ever seen a TV news announcer wearing a coat that flashes in front of the camera? It probably has suri fiber in it.
You can recognize a suri because of its visible traits—phenotype. A good suri will have high luster, well-defined lock structure, and a slick, drippy appearance to its fleece that is cool to the touch. Suri ears tend to be a bit longer than huacaya ears, and their noses are generally straight rather than dished. The suri should be elegant and stately. The topknot should be heavy and fall into straight, locked bangs.
Today, it is estimated that less than 200,000 suris exist worldwide, with only a small percentage of these being colored. Some would even categorize them as an endangered species on the international level. In the U.S., about 15% of our alpacas are suris, and the number is rising every year. We’re definitely doing our part!
Showing suris is a lot of fun. It’s when they really get to strut their stuff! There is nothing like a suri in full fleece to grab the attention of the audience. Suri fleece requires more attention at showtime. Although it is against the show rules to enhance the fleece, it’s a good idea to pick the vegetable matter out of the fleece, and then rinse it with clear water to let the natural luster shine through. Don’t be fooled by the relatively small number of suris that you see, though. Suri competition is challenging and not for the faint of heart!
An issue that raises the hackles of many serious suri breeders is the practice of cross-breeding suris with huacayas. When our goal is to continuously improve the quality of the fleece, it seems counter-productive to blend the two fleece types. I remind visitors that every colored suri has a huacaya in its background somewhere, maybe before the ARI records began. Color was introduced into suri lines through cross-breeding a white suri stud to a colored huacaya female. Consequently, once in awhile in the first 3 generations from the importations suri breeders get a surprise—a huacaya from 2 suri parents! The more generations of suri that appear in the pedigree, the smaller the chance of producing a huacaya. Three generations is generally considered reliable, but not always, so always look carefully at the ARI certificate of any suri you are considering purchasing.
Suris generally require a higher initial monetary outlay, but the average returns are higher also. If you are looking for a niche in the alpaca industry, raising suris can provide one. If you would like to broaden your reach and influence, add a couple of suris to your huacaya herd. If you would like to learn more about suris, don’t hesitate to contact us. We’re a friendly lot!