Lifestyle Fashion
Tips to Classify and Cultivate Your Alpaca Fiber

Tips to Classify and Cultivate Your Alpaca Fiber

The most luxurious natural fiber available is alpaca fiber. It is superior to angora and even cashmere as it is as soft, if not softer than cashmere, but does not pill and has better thermal properties. Alpaca fur is practically hypoallergenic, as it does not contain lanolin like wool: lanolin is oily and retains dust, mites and other microscopic allergens. The lack of lanolin also means no chemicals or special washes are needed to prepare the alpaca fleece for processing. Due to this purity, even the most sensitive skin is not irritated by alpaca products.

Classification by color or fineness

Color is the easiest thing to learn about grading your fleece, however there are areas where a color can appear to float between definitions. For starters, there are 22 colors that are internationally recognized. At this time, most of the animals are white or faun. Gray and black are the most sought after colors and therefore the easiest to sell. White is also very easy to trade, because alpaca fiber dyes very easily, so white is often used to dye fleece.

A roan color is a solid base color such as brown or black with white on the tips or white hairs growing in the amount of the base color. Almost all backs will have roar in their coloration. Gray is a very popular color and can range from a very dark gray to an almost white looking animal. Most grays will have small darker flecks.

The other way to grade your fleece is to separate it by fineness. Fineness is the diameter of individual hairs and is measured in microns. For comparison, a human hair is between 40 and 90 microns.

Alpaca fiber measuring 18 microns or less is classified as Royal. Historically, this type of fiber was reserved exclusively for Inca royalty.

The fiber with a measurement of 18 to 20 microns is classified as Baby or Superfine. This can be found mostly in one-year-old alpacas, their first cut.

The Fine classification is given to the alpaca fiber between 20 and 25 microns, and Medium to the fiber between 25 and 30 microns. Both types are easy to spin and are very soft. However, above 30 microns, we fall into the Strong category. Obviously not as fine as Fine or Medium, but nevertheless excellent for gloves, carpets, and other tough finished products.

The other classification is the Mixed Pieces that exceed 30 microns and are used for felting and decorative artistic products.

Cultivate

You should not groom your alpacas; Brushing, tugging, and even over-stroking your alpacas can stretch the hair fibers. This affects the loft of the fleece, loft here meaning the ability of the hairs to return to “normal” after being stretched or pinched, it can sometimes refer to fluffiness, but this is less accurate. Because the scales on an alpaca’s fur are all facing the same direction, they don’t spring back as forcefully as wool would, making it more susceptible to stretching out and losing its shape, rather than springing back.

If you have enough space for pasture, a great strategy is to put your alpacas on fresh grass pastures 3 weeks before shearing. This will allow any hay, twigs or other things that may be stuck in the fleece to come out naturally and you will have clean cuttings, ready to process.

If you live in a humid climate, make sure the cut fleece is dry before bagging to keep it free of mold and smelling fresh for your customers. Deb Wright of Wright Choice Alpacas shared an inventive solution for this, until dry and ready to pack. You should also make sure to keep moths away from your fleece until you have time to sort and prepare it for shipping or collection. You can put a dryer sheet with each bag to repel insects.

A longer-term strategy for growing quality fleece would be a breeding program, or purchasing animals bred for high-quality fleece from a good breeding farm. Breed monitoring, long-term and detailed record keeping, and honesty will help a breeder develop lines that are proven to provide quality fleece.

If a breeder realizes that the offspring of a certain alpaca are not producing quality animals, they should be removed from the breeding stock and neutered if they are male. It will take years to make these determinations, which is why detailed record keeping and honesty in recording will pay off in the long run.

Animals that are not fit for breeding can continue to be used for fleece production for the rest of their lives, an owner will still be able to make money from them. However, if a breeding program is targeting a certain quality of fleece, these animals should not be breeders. Even the medium strong fleece has the wonderful characteristics of alpaca fiber, and there are many mills and artisans who will be happy to purchase this alpaca fiber.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *