The second fiber we produce on the farm and that I am gonna talk about today is alpaca fleece. Almost everyone has heard of alpaca fleece and knows how soft and warm it is. The first fleece produced by baby alpacas is the finest, softest fleece the animal will produce.
Alpacas are shorn once a year, usually in the spring, and can yield 7-10 lbs of fiber. The fleece has the luster of silk, three times the insulating capacity of wool without the weight, and its softness has been compared to cashmere. One of the differences between wool and alpaca is that alpaca fiber does not have lanolin, which makes it hypoallergenic and a good choice for those who are allergic to wool. Because it lacks these oils, alpaca fiber does not need to be washed with harsh detergents and chemicals. The scales on alpaca fiber are closer to the shaft and are more rounded than scales on sheep fiber, so it does not have the prickly, itchy feel of wool.
Alpaca fiber takes dye well, and in South America, alpacas were bred mainly with white fleece. Breeders in North America breed for a wide range of natural colors, and strive for uniformity, denseness and fineness in their fleece.
Alpaca fleece wicks away moisture, is naturally windproof, stain, and flame resistant.
There are two types of Alpacas, Huacaya and Suri. Huacaya is what we raise at Ironhorse Homestead, and what many people think of when they think of alpacas, as they are about 95% of the Alpacas you will encounter. They have fluffy, crimped fiber that grows outward from their bodies. Suri Alpacas have shiny, long hair that hangs in what resembles dreadlocks, their fleece has a high lustre and very silky feel. Suri Alpacas are much more rare, and consequently, their fiber is more expensive.
Alpaca fiber is judged and measured by its micron count, similar to how mohair is judged and measured. Royal fiber has less than 20 microns, baby has 21-23, standard Alpaca fleece is 24-28, adult is 29-32 and anything above that is considered coarse to very coarse. The fibers can also be judged by fineness, crimp, and lock structure.
Our alpacas are not show animals, but there are many alpaca shows where the animal is judged on the fineness of its fiber, as well as its physical conformity. We raise ours for the fiber, but they are really more like pets. The fiber is amazing to the touch, and they are inquisitive, quiet, somewhat shy creatures. I love to watch them grazing peacefully in the fields, and looking into their big, beautiful, soulful eyes reminds me how lucky I am, and what an amazing opportunity we have to interact with these otherworldly creatures. Their fiber is an awesome by product of keeping them, but they are mean so much more to us.