By Sandra and Alex Frazier, Little Lost Creek Alpaca Farm
We frequently have visitors to our alpaca farm, and often the first question is, “Why alpacas?” A good question. We don’t eat them, we don’t ride them, they aren’t pack animals, and except for their cute eyes and graceful, slender bodies, what do they provide? The answer is simple: fiber.
One of the softest fibers in the world, alpaca fiber is hypoallergenic (no lanolin such as is found in sheep’s wool,) extremely soft, a hollow core of each fiber to absorb the wearer’s body heat, and even flame resistant.
The alpacas are shorn once a year, usually in early May, when their staple length is between 3” to 4”. As the Andes mountains, in South America, is their continent of origin, their tolerance for heat and humidity is challenged. Having them shorn early in the spring ensures that they will not suffer, too much, from excessive heat. When temperatures climb above the 90’s, and the humidity is high, we put large fans on them and regularly hose them down.
So what do we do with the fiber after shearing? At shearing time the fiber from each animal is sorted into three grades: #1 is the blanket (back of the animal) and the most valuable. It can be made into yarns and rovings, blended with our other animals – Angora goat (mohair,) and our Blue Faced Leicester sheep. Sometimes we have our mill add merino (high quality sheep’s wool) to the fiber, giving the finished yarn a greater “memory” to return to an original shape. Grade #2 comes from the neck and rump and tends to be less fine. These fibers are used to make felt sheets, rovings, and core-spun yarns for such things as woven rugs. Grade #3 is the least esteemed. It comes from the alpaca’s legs and underbelly. Coarse by design, we use it to make bird nest builders, as cores for dryer balls, or as stuffing for our custom dog beds.
Alpacas are not rare or exotic. There are probably more alpaca farms around you than you know. Please check out our web site: littlelostcreekalpacafarm.com to learn more about what we do, and pepper us with alpaca questions to fuel this blog.
Learn more about Sandra and Alex Frazier and Little Lost Creek Alpaca Farm at http://www.littlelostcreekalpacafarm.com/.