EVALUATING ALPACA ANIMAL FIBER
The basic purpose of the alpaca industry is to produce high quality animal fiber. The world of alpaca fiber can be confusing to those trying to decide if alpacas are right for them and which alpaca to choose.
So how do you know if the alpaca wool is good or not? Actually, it is much more complicated than answering this simple question. You need to decide what your goals are for your alpaca farm and who will be your fiber market. You need to have an alpaca business plan before you purchase so you can make the right decision based on your goals.
Let's start with some terms you need to understand to evaluate the animal fiber of an alpaca you are interested in:
- Micron - This is the average fiber diameter of an alpacas fleece. Microns are measured by sending a sample of fiber to a lab where it is evaluated. (Whoever owns the alpaca probably has done this already.) You will get back a histogram, which is a graph, that tells you the micron measurement of that fiber sample. The lower the number, the finer the fleece. (For example: a 19 micron count is finer than a 24 micron count.)
- Fineness - The diameter of each alpaca hair follice.
- Density - This is the amount of hair follicles an alpaca has (we think of it as thick or thin haired alpacas). Density is measured with the SP ratio (ratio of secondary to primary fibers). A high SP ratio is a trait you would want in an alpaca. It means their fleece is dense and that alpaca produces more fleece.
- Crimp - This is the waviness in a lock of alpaca fleece. If you look at the lock of alpaca fiber, it will look corrigated. The more crimp, the more elastic the animal fiber.
- Uniformity - The important characteristics of the fleece should be consistent and evenly distributed throughout the alpaca wool.
- Luster - This is how much the fleece shines.
- Handle - This is how soft the fiber feels.
- Medullated fiber - The coarse hairs, also, called guard hairs.
- Staple length - Length of the fiber an alpaca produces between shearings.
- Tensile strength - The strength of the fiber. When you hold alpaca fiber in you hand and pull, it should resist breaking. You do not want fiber that breaks easily.
Now you know some terms to evaluate alpaca fiber. Next, you have to determine your alpaca farming goals. For instance, if you want to produce animals that consistently produce fine fibers, then you need to breed to an animal genetically disposed to keep fineness as they age. In other words, you would need to know the micron count of an alpaca dam or sire when they are older, not when they are a year old. That way you could see if they kept the fineness in their fleece as they age.
Next, you need to know the market you want to persue for your animal fiber. Will the fiber be used for clothing such as alpaca wool sweaters, beautiful alpaca shawls, alpaca socks, or an alpaca wool coat? If the clothing is to be worn next to the skin, then you would want your alpaca wool to be less than 28 microns or it will be itchy. Use the fiber with higher micron counts for alpaca rugs, purses, or other non-clothing items.
If the alpaca fiber is to be made into yarn, then choose the crimpiest fiber for this purpose. Crimpy alpaca fleece will give more elasticity to your yarn.
We suggest you attend an alpaca fiber event so you can see the
difference in fleeces produced. Each animal produces it's own individual fleece characteristics.
As you can see, there is a lot to evaluating animal fiber. It's important to thoroughly understand your goals and market before you purchase. You'll make better decisions about your animals and keep the alpaca industry viable if you understand your purpose in producing alpaca wool.
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