ALPACAS:
SYNTHESIS OF A MIRACLE

Reviews

From Kerry Anderson, A Star Alpacas, Fort Collins, Colorado:

Alpacas, Synthesis of a Miracle is a well written, comprehensive and entertaining book that discusses both alpaca breeding and the history of the alpaca industry in Peru through the lens of two mens' lives. Drawn from personal interviews, family documents and other personal records, the reader is provided with snapshots of Julio Barreda and Frank Webster Mitchell's journeys through the often tumultuous Peruvian textile industry.

Julio Barreda's life is traced from the time he was a small child to his current position as one of the most highly regarded alpaca breeders in the world. It is truly a fascinating story. The road he traveled was not an easy one, but his passion was always alpacas. At the age of 28, he inherited the Accoyo herd from his mother and his path in life was set. The Depression of the 1930s had taken a toll on the alpaca industry and when he took over the quality of the animals had declined. His mission was to radically improve his herd. He started by separating suris from huacayas. Secondly, he started paying close attention to the density and weight of the alpacas' fleece. Finally, he started to focus attention on improving fleece quality or texture. He also started selecting for size, preferring large animals. This was in 1948. The rest is history.

The second man is Frank Webster Mitchell. The portrait of this man provides the reader with a valuable history of the Peruvian alpaca processing industry, as well as a glimpse at the man himself. Just like Julio Barreda, Frank Mitchell faced hard times, internal political disruption and terrorist activities while trying to build his business. He came to Peru looking for chinchilla and stayed for alpacas. He pawned his gold cigarette case to start his business, which today is one of the largest alpaca businesses in the world. It is through his story that the reader learns the system of fiber collection, processing and pricing in Peru, as well as the reason why by 1962 90% of the alpacas in Peru were white. (Hint: It had something to do with Arnold Palmer and Frank Sinatra.)

These two mens' stories would be interesting enough. However, there is much more to this book. Interwoven throughout these histories, is a detailed, comprehensive analysis of genetic theory, breeding standards, breeding objectives and mating systems that is in itself a valuable education to all who own alpacas. Discussions range from huacaya and suri fleece standards to such controversial subjects as inbreeding considerations. New Zealand and Austrailian color tables provide complete statistics on inheritance of color characteristics. With the Accoyo genetic successes, we see how important breeding selectively really is and how much long range planning and patience is needed to achieve certain goals. The reader is both challenged and encouraged to identify goals and define standards.

Mike Safley has written a much needed book. As an alpaca breeder myself, I am constantly looking for more information about all aspects of alpacas. This book has prompted me to think much more clearly about my breeding goals, as well as giving me a much better understanding of the industry itself. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who has alpacas and wants a breeding program that is effective and focused. It's also a great read.

From Carol Thayer

Mike Safley has delivered the tool needed by the North American Alpaca Industry to move forward into the next generation of profit from alpacas. SYNTHESIS OF A MIRACLE not only brings a delightful recant of the history of the alpaca industry in Peru, but also weaves the basis for breeders in North America to breed towards genetic certainty of fleece characteristics, and to breed directly into the arms of a growing fashion industry that will reward for fabric that is lightweight, next-to-the-skin soft, and free of guard hair.

Mike Safley artfully explores the incredible dedication of the two main characters in the book, Don Julio Barreda and Frank Webster Michell, utilizing their own words and recreating the atmosphere of impossible times in Peru. It cannot escape anyone reading the book that these are not remote times, but recent history, and it underlines how fortunate we are in receiving this gift of some of the very best animals South American has to offer. I have not been able to make the long trip to Peru, Bolivia or Chile to see where these animals come from. It was enjoyable and satisfying to have someone walk me through many trips, and many stories filled with the flavor of the times and atmosphere of life down there.

SYNTHESIS OF A MIRACLE shows, through the adventures of Mr. Barreda, the improvement that can be achieved with a breeding plan in place. The book has been dropped on the North American Industry as we face an important crossroad: To move ahead into a market for end products, or to ride out the market for the rare animals, which is dissipating. The intense money seen in the early years for the rarity of the animals is now giving way to prices based on quality of fleece. This book challenges the industry to take the monetary reward to an even higher level - to reward for animals that can reliably reproduce the excellent characteristics they display based on their known genetics. It challenges breeders to see beyond a 20-animal farm as a hobby and move toward herd production - consistency in volume of fleece and fineness. The book shows that developing an exceptional herd, with reliable, reproducible genetics, takes years of dedication, an understanding of genetics and heritable traits, and helps narrow the complex study of genetics down to the basics that are applicable to alpaca breeders.

This book, even more importantly, demonstrates through the history of the textile industry in Peru, that the development of a strong, reliable end-product industry will not only take time, but the teamwork of selected, skilled individuals, as well as the pooling of quality fleece. Without the quality, we cannot rise above the prices or demand (or lack of) in the sheep wool industry. Reviewing the textile industry in Peru is frustrating - and should provoke North America to ignite some new ideas - like teaming up with designers to promulgate this product into higher-priced end products targeted at corporate consumers - ideas that will allow the word "alpaca" to have an entirely different meaning than "wool". Mike Safley's chapters devoted to the history of the wool industry in Peru should help bring the focus of the North American Industry back to the end-product market.

SYNTHESIS OF A MIRACLE is extremely well written and well thought out for content. I enjoyed the book immensely. I read it quickly (my husband was ready to steal it from me the whole time) and would like to thank Mike Safley for making time to write this book and share so much of Peru, breeding goals, and the commercial fleece market with all of us.


From John Howard

Michael Safley's Alpacas--Synthesis Of A Miracle is a must read for everyone with an interest in the industry. Volumes of research and firsthand knowledge has created a factual, detailed and emotional account of the interplay between the alpaca and the human element. To fully appreciate this book read it in its entirety before trying to understand the in-depth analysis contained in some of the chapters. In a review one is better able to understand and appreciate in total the many variables required to develop and implement a sound breeding program.

One can almost feel the bitter cold of the altiplano. The abuses and hardships of the Quechua Indians are appalling. Their survival and the survival of the alpacas depend on each other.

The Accoyo alpaca is the genius of a man from Marcusani, Don Julio Barreda. His sixty years of breeding alpacas has created a benchmark for the industry. The insights to his personal life reveal a kind and gentle man deeply committed to the well being of his countrymen. Frank Webster Mitchell migrated to Peru in search of chinchilla and instead became the architect of the textile industry in Peru today. The election of Alberto Fijimori as president gave stability to the political and economical policies of Peru and the eventual exportation of the alpaca.

There is always controversy and the author is not one to shy away from debate. His views on cross-breeding, breed standards and showring format are areas for debate. Confined to the subject matter this is a step in the path of progress.

From Ben Fisco, Humming Hill Suri Alpacas

"I am half way through the book and I can hardly put it down. Congratulations, one of the most important contributions to the Alpaca Industry. I am not surprised coming from you. I have recommended it to all my clients. Can you send me a few purchase forms like the one you mailed out? I know I can get ten or twelve people to purchase it."