Alpaca Fleece and Fibre
The 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 are many elements that alpaca fibre can be used for. Depending on your alpaca breed, the fleece will have different characteristics.
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. 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.
Some important key terms:
Mid Side Sample : A sample of wool (a small hand full) taken from the mid point on the side of an alpaca usually at the time of shearing.
Histogram : A method of graphing the distribution of individual fibres in a fleece sample. When comparing histograms, visual impressions may be distorted if the scale frequency differs.
Micron : 1 micron = 1 millionth of a metre.
Mean Fibre Diameter : In a fibre test, a sample of wool is laser scanned to find the mean or average fibre diameter of the measured sample. The fleece is more valuable if the average fibre diameter measured in microns is lower.
Standard Deviation : A measure of how much the fibre diameter varies within the tested sample. This is also measured in micron.
Coefficient of Variation : Calculated by dividing the standard deviation by the average fibre diameter and then multiplying by 100. It measures the range of fibre diameter variation relative to the average fibre diameter.
Coarse Edge Micron : Indicates the number of microns greater than the average in the area of the coarsest 5% of fibres tested. Better quality and more uniform fibre distribution is indicated by a lower percentage of coarse edge fibre.
Comfort Factor : The percentage of fibres less than 30 micron.
Crimp : The waviness of a fibre. It can be measured and expressed as the number of complete waves per unit length. Although not always a reliable indicator, finer fibre often has more crimps per unit length.
Staple : A well defined pencil like bundle of fibres that are aligned.
Density : A reference to how much wool an alpaca is carrying and a term that is often used in the show ring. Although there are many indicators of density, they can be misleading due to variations in micron. Skin follicle testing and weighing shorn fleece are reliable methods of determining an alpaca’s fleece densit
Alpacas need to be shorn annually. This is usually done in spring or early summer so that the alpacas have grown enough fleece back before the weather cools again and so they have their fleece removed before the weather gets too hot.
Understanding Fleece Results
Testing and then understanding fleece testing results is invaluable to alpaca breeders. It allows stud owners to make educated and informed decisions in their breeding programs. It also gives breeders information on the quality of their fleece in regard to processing into products. If you are interested in learning about how to manage your alpaca fleeces from shearing, skirting, storing and processing please contact your regional president. With enough interest, the region will run a Shearing, Skirting and Fleece Preparation Workshop.
There are several steps involved to take shorn alpaca fibre in it’s raw form to transform it into the finished product of purchasable and useable alpaca fleece. There are a number of businesses around Australia that also buy and process alpaca fleece.
Guaranteed Australian Alpaca
The AAA licenses the use of a “Guaranteed Australian Alpaca” logo for products that contain alpaca from Australia, are completely made in Australia (i.e. fleece, hide or meat has not left Australia) and are in a form which is considered a “commercial” product (i.e. not bales of fleece)