Shearing and processing
The love and popularity of alpaca fibre is on the rise. Combining softness, warmth and strength, alpaca fibre has all the benefits of wool without the itch. Available in natural colours but easily dyed, there’s many elements that alpaca fibre can be used for.
Alpacas need to be shorn once a year – typically in spring. This is the biggest maintenance required and usually takes around 10 minutes per animal depending on shearing experience.
The preferred method of shearing is to lay the animals on their side, either on a shearing table or the ground, and restrain their legs with a tether at each end. This restraint allows the alpaca to be shorn safely and efficiently.
Electric sheep-shearing equipment is normally used, but because alpaca fibre is non-greasy, care needs to be taken that shears do not over-heat. If you are purchasing your first alpacas, ask the vendors for the name of a recommended shearer, or ask if you can bring the alpacas back to the property on their shearing day. Depending on the density of the fleece, alpacas cut anywhere between 11/2 and 4 kg of fleece. Some of the high-quality stud males will cut higher weights.
Fleece and Fashion
Depending on your alpaca breed, the fleece will have different characteristics.
High-quality Huacaya fleece should have a uniform fibre with a consistent colour, length, strength and crimping. It is consistently bright and fine, with little guard hair. Suri alpacas provide a fleece of greater lustre, yet share many of the same ideal properties, including integrity of colour, consistent length, strength, and a lack of guard hair. Healthy alpacas should produce a consistent yield across their bodies.
Many of these fleece characteristics are determined by genetics, so it is important to research breeders and the animals’ histories carefully before you invest. The fibre types, fineness, colour, length, guard hair, crimp, brightness and yield are all genetically determined; however, nutrition and health also play a large role in the fineness, length, strength and yield of the fleece.
Australia now boasts several alpaca garment and yarn manufacturers. Internationally, there is strong interest in the fibre among fashion houses, and as the industry grows, our farmers will be further able to meet all supply demands, both nationally and internationally. Now, the demand outweighs production.
As a luxury fibre market, the returns on alpaca fleece can be generous, and the demand for quality animals and quality fleece is increasing.