|Curriculum vitae Dr Jim Watts M.V.Sc. Ph.D.|
Jim is a research veterinarian who has developed a new way of breeding fleece-coated animals. The breeding system, called the Soft Rolling Skin® or SRS® system, is based on improving the density and length of fibres grown by the animal, and has been applied to Merino sheep flocks and Angora goat herds in Australia since 1988 and more recently to Huacaya and Suri alpaca herds in Australia, New Zealand, North America, and the United Kingdom.
Jim has developed measurement systems for fibre density and length as well as accurate subjective methods, based on fleece structure, of assessing density and length. He has shown that animals with measurably high levels of fibre density and length produce fleeces consisting of long and thin staples of high crimp amplitude and low crimp frequency. A key concept is that the ‘fibre bundle’, representing the fibres produced by the skin follicle group, is the basic unit of fleece structure. These scientific discoveries impact directly on the design and implementation of fleece breeding programs as well as conventional methods of animal and fleece judging. Currently, over 100 alpaca seedstock producers are using the SRS® breeding system.
SRS® breeding programs for alpacas have been underway for about 4 years in Australia and New Zealand . During this time, the 125 Huacaya herdsires used by SRS® subscribers are, on average, 10 % denser and 16% longer than other herdsires. The primary fibres and secondary fibres are 5.1 microns and 3.2 microns finer respectively.
The test results of recently bred Huacaya sires and embryo transfer donors within the SRS® system indicate that genetically eliminating guard hair is feasible. To do this, the mean diameter of the primary fibres has to be reduced from its current level of 35 microns to less than 17 microns. Twenty six sires have been identified with mean primary fibre diameters of less than 30 microns (averaging 27.2 microns with the finest being 18.7 microns) and with high fibre density (mean of 51.8 follicles per square millimetre with the highest being 74.7), high fibre length (mean of 0.39 millimetres per day with the highest being 0.48), and low secondary fibre diameter (mean of 19.5 microns with the lowest being 14.7 microns). Similarly, 20 embryo transfer donors have been identified with mean primary fibre diameter of 26.9 microns (lowest 24.5 microns), fibre density of 49.2 follicles per square millimetre (highest 78.2), fibre length of 0.39 millimetres per day (highest 0.46) and secondary fibre diameter of 19.2 microns (lowest 16.4).
Suri alpaca breeding has also entered a most exciting phase with the recent identification of high density animals which breed that way. It breaks the mould. Suri breeders can now move away from low density Suris, which are still being widely used in the general alpaca industry, to a more productive and finer animal.
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