Information about the Alpaca and their lustrous fleece, special benefits of Alpaca fiber, how Alpaca fiber is prepared and processed and Alpaca fiber for fun and profit.
THE AMAZING ALPACA AND CLOTHING CREATIONS FROM ALPACA FIBER
The Alpaca is a wonderful, unique animal that can adapt to any type of climate. They have a gentle, easygoing nature and are easy to care for. It is not difficult to get close to such an amazing creature. Most alpacas are about three feet tall at the withers and weigh between 150 and 175 pounds as an adult. Despite reports, the alpaca will not spit at humans unless they are teased, but may do so at each other.
Alpaca owners learn the special communication signals of their animals that are usually exhibited by moving their tails and ears. As the owners become in tuned to what each movement means, they know what the animal is trying to say. Not only do they move their body parts, they also make humming noises and scream when frightened.
Special Features of the Alpaca - It's Lustrous Fleece
Alpacas not only make great pets, they are fabulous on farms and ranches for profit. They provide a beautiful, dense coat of fleece, in various colors, up to 22 different shades, all used to make yarn for clothes, bedding and other household textiles. It may be a bit costly to own and breed a small herd of alpacas, but can be quite advantageous over time.
The fleece of the alpaca provides more strength than wool, is softer than cashmere, warmer and lighter than both. An alpaca can produce an average of five to eight pounds of usable fleece fiber annually. The fleece is then converted into some of the most durable and luxurious garments worldwide.
The fiber is classified into microns according to species and age of the Alpacas. A micron measure the diameter of the fiber; the lower the microns, the softer and finer the fleece. The Royal alpaca produces a fiber that is finer than 18 microns; baby alpaca provides fiber less than 20 microns; medium is under 30, strong is 30 microns and beyond while mixed short, coarse fiber can be 32 microns or more, most often used for felting. The softest, durable alpaca yarns are those that average 21 microns or less. Garments consisting of 30 plus microns would cause scratchiness and irritation.
People favor garments made from alpaca fiber over items made of wool. According to studies, at least 30 percent of consumers in a survey claim to be allergic to wool, but can wear alpaca or cashmere items without any adverse reactions. Clothing and other products made from alpaca fiber with low microns is silky to the touch and provides all the warmth of wool without any itching and irritation to the skin due to it being hollow-cored and lighter in weight.
Special Benefits of Alpaca Fiber
Many designers of outdoor garments prefer to invest in the hollow-cored fiber fabric from the Alpaca. Not only does it provide good insulation and warmth, alpaca fiber has low moisture absorbency to afford comfort and protection in all climates. Some other interesting benefits of alpaca fleece and fiber is that it is:
Non-flammable: Unless the garment is directly in contact with a flame, the alpaca fiber will not burn, which guarantees the wearer more safety.
Durable yet pliable: Alpaca fiber provides a certain amount of elasticity along with strength and durability.
Felting: A garment made from alpaca fiber will not lose its shape or appearance.
Hypoallergenic: Because of its hypoallergenic softness and properties and lack of chemicals and lanolin opposed to wool, alpaca fiber is soft and comfortable for even the most delicate of beings.
How The Fiber is Prepared and Processed
The first step in preparing alpaca fiber into specialty wear begins with a pair of clippers to shear the animal. Owners will usually shear the alpacas annually each spring. Because of the thick, warm coats, it is more comfortable to shear the animal just prior to hot summer temperatures. As a result, they have more time to regenerate a new coat by winter's cold season.
The process of shearing goes in stages starting with the low-quality belly hair. Most alpaca owners and farmers do not use the belly hair for yarn; it is just discarded. The best quality fiber is called the "blanket" that is located on the back and sides of the animal. The final stage of shearing is on the neck area and the legs that produce a coarser type of fiber. This fiber is normally kept separate and frequently used for other textiles like rugs.
There are also two types of alpacas with fiber known as Huacaya that is woolly, crimped and very dense or Suri, which is lustrous and very fine. The Suri alpaca is rarer. Once each animal is sheared, the fleece needs to be sorted according to type of fleece, whether it is Suri or Huacaya alpaca fleece, blanket fleece or leg and neck fleece along with the varying colors. Some alpacas can provide multiple colors in their fiber, but processing is easier by keeping colors separate. There are 22 natural color shades that include, but not limited to mahogany brown, black, white, silver, light fawn, champagne and gray.
After sorting comes the process of cleaning the fiber. Since alpacas are outdoor animals, they pick up leaves, twigs, dirt, plant debris, dust and dirt after they lie down in. Most often the debris must be picked or combed out of the fleece prior to washing in a gentle detergent. This removes all excess dust and dirt from the fiber. The fleece is then air dried.
Cleaned and dried fleece is now ready to be carded. Carding is a method of passing the raw fleece into a mechanical device in order to remove any snags or tangles and end up with individual strands of fiber. The fiber is twined onto card clothing or flexible backing with wire pins. The fibers are parallel to each other and eventually aligned into a thick rope. The ropes can be further twisted together, depending on the desired thickness of the fiber. The next step would be to convert these ropes into yarn.
The spinning machines work with a revolving drum that strips fiber from the carded rope, stretching and twisting until the desired thickness, whether it is a thicker yarn for knitting or crocheting or the fine threads beneficial in sewing and weaving. Most small-time alpaca craftsman and farmers use fleece from their own alpaca herd and the common traditional methods such as the simple spinning wheel. It is a much slower method that produces the highest quality yarn.
Aside from the recognized 22 colors of the alpaca breed, sometimes other hues are in demand, requiring a method that dyes the fibers. White alpaca fleece is the best choice to die and produce beautiful colors more easily, which is done after the fiber was spun. The yarn is finally ready to be used for soft, luxurious garments and other fabrics. It may seem like a lengthy process, but well worth the efforts in profits, style and comfort.
Alpaca Fiber for Fun and Profit
Alpacas are a fun and easy care animal. Their lustrous coats of fleece and fiber are limited in supply, but in high demand. Whether the small-time alpaca farmers process their own fiber or sell it to private spinners, it can generate a wholesome profit for excellent product. However, it may be advantageous as a craftsman and farmer to purchase your own spinning wheel and produce your personal homegrown alpaca garments of high quality.
An alpaca farm can take a good three to five years before substantial success and profits are generated. In no time, however, the income will provide for the alpaca maintenance such as feed, veterinary care and other upkeep. As a guideline, an ounce of fiber can be sold for $3 to $5; each alpaca can produce up to 10 pounds of fleece annually.
You can produce the best fiber and fleece abundantly by providing better quality food, discerning breeding methods and the highest quality of veterinary care for your alpacas. As with any animal, health and abundance of skin and its coat (or fleece in this instance) begins from the inside out. Choose the best of diets and optimum care that translates into higher profits and success for the alpaca owner. How gratifying to know that the healthy care of your alpaca herd can produce such high-quality products with great profits!