What do you do with alpacas? Alpacas are shorn once a year for their fleece which is processed and used for luxurious garments, blankets, and cuddly toys for children (and adults!), among many other things.
What is done with their fiber after they are shorn? Basically their fiber is separated during shearing into "firsts" and "seconds". The firsts, being the primary blanket or prime fleece, is the finest part of the fleece.
You then take the firsts and "skirt" the fleece which is where most of the vegetable matter and any fiber you don't want in your yarn (like obvious guard hairs) are removed from it. Then it moves on to be washed and dried. After it is dry it is "carded". Carding removes even more vegetable matter and straightens the fibers so they are in line with each other. This carded fiber is called a "batt" or "roving" which is then used for spinning, felting or even knitting and crocheting if you are VERY careful!
Usually the batts or roving are spun and during spinning, the fiber is twisted and wound on a bobbin in varying thicknesses...either as a thread or yarn. This makes 1 ply then you can make another bobbin of 1 ply and combine them for 2 ply and so on.
Fiber can also be felted which can be made into fabulous hats and purses as well as other things. Wet felting and needle felting can be relatively simple fiber arts that can be made without a lot of expensive equipment.
Some alpaca farms specialize in the processing and hand-spinning of the fiber and it is the main reason for their farms. If you are not sure if you are interested in the fiber processing, alpaca farming can still be for you! There are fiber co-ops that will process the fiber from your animals and in turn you can get finished products for your store if you wish to have one (or just for your enjoyment!). Some farms main focus is primarily raising and showing the alpacas for the betterment of the fiber qualities and the joys of being around the alpacas.
Do alpacas make good pets? Alpacas can be pets but they are a herd animal and require more than one to be happy. Males and some females that aren't designated for a breeding program can make great pets and can be purchased for much less than the breeding animals. Some local 4-H groups accept them in their programs. Some alpacas are happier doing this sort of thing than others though so you will want to be sure you look for one that the farm says would be a good "PR" or 4-H animal.
Can children be around them? YES!!!! Alpacas seem to really like children actually! They seem to be less afraid of them since they are smaller than the alpacas. 4-H groups are accepting them more and more and a lot of youth show Alpacas in the shows. Alpacas are very gentle creatures and more and more young families are finding the Alpaca lifestyle to be a perfect match for their young families.
Here is our daughter Jessica (age 8) exercising Promise, our overweight alpaca...
On your mark, get set, GO!!!!
They look like little camels or llamas, are they related? Alpacas are camelids. They are related to camels as well as llamas, guanacos, and vicunas. Alpacas and Llamas were domesticated thousands of years ago while the guanacos and vicuna remained wild. Both guanacos and vicuna are considered endangered and have the finest fiber of any animal. Alpacas with the vicuna fine fiber are prized highly by breeders as we know there is no other fleece with the same softness, strength and warmth of it. Llamas are primarily raised as pack animals but certain ones can also be raised for their fiber.
What does Huacaya and Suri mean? Huacaya and Suri are the two types of fleece that an alpaca can have. Huacayas are the fuzzy, fluffy ones where the fiber has a waviness (crimp) to it and it stands out away from the body. Suri's fleece hangs straight down from their bodies in locks much like dreadlocks. Their fiber doesn't have the crimp but instead is very slippery and should have a luxurious buttery or silky feel. Below are examples of both:
HUACAYA- Our very own "Grace" is sporting our huacaya fleece. This picture represents about 5 months of growth to her coat. You can see how it fluffs out away from her body in bundles. The smaller insert shows the waviness that is called crimp. Crimp is a desirable trait and you want the crimp to be consistent in the fiber into the topknot (the clump of hair on their head) all the way down their legs. Crimp helps give volume and memory to the yarn and finished products.
SURI- This handsome lad is named Nemo. He is modeling his Suri coat for us. Suri's are much more rare than the huacayas are (only around 7% of the alpaca population are Suri!). You can see how his fleece falls in pencil like locks down from his body. Suri's in full fleece are truly a site to behold! Their fiber is very precious and usually commands a top dollar. Suri has a heavenly silky feel with excellent drape and luster.
Please check for more later!
Updated November 30, 2013