Alpaca is one of the most luxurious natural fibres in the world. The handle [feel] and softness of quality fleeces, pure luxuriousness sets alpaca apart from other natural fibres. Alpaca are farmed worldwide for their fleece. It comes in 20 recognised colours. It has been revered for centuries and Incans called it 'Fibre of the Gods'.
Fleece from both Suri and Huacaya is prized for the softness of handle, and is acclaimed for its thermal, hypoallergenic, anti-bacterial properties and, is flame, odour and water resistant. It is eco-friendly and ethically grown in respect of the farmed animal and the fibre is biodegradable. The superior handle or feel of alpaca makes it ideally suited to clothing worn next to the skin.
There are successful vertically structured businesses operating in NZ using their fibre, but fibre as an ‘at gate’ primary income is yet to be achieved. Unlike Peru where there are specialist alpaca mills, larger quantities in NZ are processed in sheep wool facilities. There are various outlets for selling alpaca fibre. Larger quantities can be sold to wool buyers who pool it for on selling. Smaller quantities can be sold to enterprises requiring individual specifications. There is a small but growing market for fibre use in the creative fibre field or as hand died yarn for the craft industry.
The fleece of a huacaya has a crimp and grows outward from the body in staples, much like a sheep.
A Suri fleece hangs down in ribbons or locks and is renowned for its lustre.
Although they present differently, the desirable fleece traits are the same for both huacaya and suri. Fineness, uniformity of micron, density, length, lustre and lack of coarse fibres are all important features for a quality fleece.
Skirting is removing inconsistencies in the fibre before processing or showing. This should be done before putting in a bag to avoid getting any skirting contamination. Skirting criteria for a show is the same as for processing except keeping the shape of the layout.
There are several processes that take place to get to the final product, these are done by enterprises ranging from large commercial companies to home based cottage
industries. They include scouring or washing, carding, combing, spinning, knitting, weaving, and felting.
Fleece testing is a tool used by many breeders to get an objective measurement of fleece traits, e.g. micron diameter, prevalence of coarse fibres, uniformity of micron etc.
It is important to keep records of each alpaca’s test results so that you can use this information in your breeding decisions.
It is recommended to take fleece samples before shearing at the mid side of the alpaca. Samples can also be taken at shearing. Send to the same tester every year to get a trend in the herd. Fleece taken from the mid-side of an alpaca is representative of the average fleece results across the body, so it is the area of the animal that the sample should come from. Identify the mid-side approximately midway between the back bone and the belly and midway between the forequarter and the rump. Before sending away for testing shake out any seeds or dust from the sample. A graphical representation of the frequency of fibre diameters in the sample. The peak shows the Mean Fibre
Diameter, and the Standard Deviation is shown in the spread of the bottom of the graph.
Commonly referred to as “micron”, is the overall average fibre diameter. Measured in micron (µm).
The standard deviation measures (in micron µm) how wide the spread is, of individual fibre diameters, around the mean (MFD). 66% of fibres fall within this range. SD is
expressed as a figure + or - the mean. For example a fleece with a mean micron measurement of 16 and an SD of 3.5 micron should be described as having an ‘SD of plus or
minus 3.5 microns about the mean’. Using this example, 66% of the fibres measured in the sample will have their fibre diameter fall between 12.5 microns and 19.5 microns
(subtract 3.5 from the mean of 16 to get the lowest figure and add 3.5 to 16 to get the highest figure). The lower the SD the more uniform and desirable the fleece is.
The coefficient of variation is the SD expressed as a percentage of the MFD. The SD is multiplied by 100 and divided by the MFD. MFD indicated at peak SD indicated
around the mean Diameter – length profile
The comfort factor is the percentage of fibres under 30 micron. Length (Len) The staple length of the sample.
Curvature is related to the crimp frequency of the fibre. It is measured in degrees per millimetre (Dg/mm) and is the amount of bend or curve over 1mm