For many people considering owning non-traditional livestock, an important factor is "what do you do with it?" Alpacas are the source of a luxurious fiber. The fleece is comparable to cashmere in fineness and is additionally known for its strength, light weightness, and luster. Alpaca textile products are recognized world wide in the fashion industry for their luxury and elegant drape.
Alpaca fleece is unique in that the blanket does not contain guard hair. The fur covering most other animals is of two types, a soft undercoat and a coarser overcoat. In fiber producing animals such as kel goats (which produce cashmere) the coarse guard hairs must be removed, a costly and tedious process. Alpaca fleece is also devoid of the lanolin that sheep produce. This results in a fleece that can be spun immediately after shearing without any further processing if desired.
For a fiber person who loves natural fiber, once you've worked with alpaca it's hard to go back to anything else. Alpaca fiber is naturally beautiful and valuable.
Great alpaca fiber facts:
- Alpaca is found naturally in 22 distinct colors. The fiber can also be blended to produce an infinite array of natural colors. It also takes dyes well.
- The fiber from alpaca is unusually strong and resilient.
- Raised at high altitudes in freezing cold, the alpaca has developed more thermal capacity in its fiber than almost any other animal. The fiber contains microscopic air pockets which create lightweight garments with high insulation values.
- Alpaca has a natural, rich luster which gives garments made from 100% alpaca high visual appeal.
- Alpaca is easily dyed any color and always retains its natural luster.
- An alpaca produces enough fleece each year to create six to eight soft, warm sweaters.
- Alpaca fleece produces a high yield of clean fiber after processing: 87 to 95 percent for alpaca versus 43 to 76 percent for sheep's wool.
- Alpaca is easier and less expensive to process than sheep's wool due to its lack of grease or lanolin, and alpaca does not have to be de-haired like cashmere or camel.
- Alpaca can be scoured or cleaned without using chemicals.
Because of the limited supply of fiber in North America, the current fiber market is based primarily on a cottage industry of handspinners, weavers, and fiber artists. See the Fleece and Fiber section of the GLAA resource center for more information about alpaca fiber and the fiber market.