We all know alpacas are cute, curious and entertaining creatures but originally they were bred for their fleece. But why do people love alpaca fleece?
In December we picked up the topic of fleece on our posts on social media to try and answer some of your questions. In this blog post we will round up all these facts into one place and introduce you to extra pieces of information as a bonus for joining us here.
Let us know in the comments if there is anything else you want to see or know - you may even inspire the next post!
Do alpacas have fleece, fur or wool?
Fleece. When on the alpaca, it is called fleece! There are two kinds of alpaca and their fleeces are a little different. Huacaya, which produce wavy teddy bear style fleece, like most of our herd. Suri, which produce longer locks of fleece, like Mary. You can see Ambition and Mary side by side on the second photo.
Fur. Nope, not on alpacas. Think dogs and cats for this one.
Wool. Once the alpaca has been sheared and the fleece is processed we call it wool.
How do you collect alpaca fleece?
Every year, around May /June, alpaca will get a hair cut. It is called shearing.
This is done for their own welfare as they don't cope in the summer with all that fleece. For example this year we collected 4kg of fleece just from Sam! In total this year our alpacas gave us around 21kg fleece.
Unlike horses alpacas are normally sheared lying down as this makes them much easier to handle and the whole process is much quicker and safer this way. Each alpaca will take around 3-5 minutes for a shear and health check.
We don't shear them ourselves here, we let a professional shearer come and do it as he has all the equipment and is far more experienced than us. Whilst they are being sheared they also get a quick health check, teeth trimmed and toenails checked.
Do alpacas shiver?
Imagine losing your 4kg coat that you have worn since winter. The first few days will feel a little bit chilly.
Unfortunately this year, the days after shearing were typically British. We kept our herd in their shelters at night to help them adjust and keep warm but after a downpour that caught us out we saw the answer to "do alpacas shiver"?
Yes. Mary and Sam felt a little chillier than the others and did begin to shiver a little. A few hours in the shelter out the rain and all was well again.
Are alpacas water proof?
To a point, yes. However their fleece doesn't have as much lanolin as a sheep's fleece, so weeks of rain will soak through. That's why over winter we will bring them in when the weather is bad to let them dry out a little and fluff back up.
How do you process alpaca fleece? Honest answer, we cheated this year and sent all 21kg to Lilipop Mill near Cannock. When we sheared the fleece was split into 1st (the best bits) and 2nds (legs and tummy).
They skirted the fleece, taking all the bits of dirt and brambles or straw out. Washed it all, dried it, carded, blended the fibre to create larger colour batches, combed twisted and spun it.
It has been sorted into different batches of colour and quality giving us the best options for different products.
What can you use alpaca fleece for?
All sorts of things!! From knitting for fun, to high end clothing like coats or walking socks. The softest fleece is collected from younger alpacas.
For older alpacas, like ambition whose fleece has become little coarser, there are still plenty of options. Crafts like felting, dryer balls, stuffing for pillows or even nest material for birds.
So many options!
Here is a short video of unboxing all the goodies we had made this year.
Want to get your hands o some alpaca fleece goodies? You can see our products on our order form here: https://form.jotform.com/210086078349358
Is alpaca fleece soft? Yes! OK, right now there is a layer of mud and frost on our guys but if you part the fleece you can see just how warm and soft it really is. Cool fact - you can have the fleece graded and one of the figures from the testing is actually called a comfort factor!
So who's fleece is softest? Well, right now the answer is probably Amelia as this is her first fleece. Then comes Sam then Pippin. Here is the bonus picture for you. As it it the first time shearing Sam and Pippin we sent a sample of their fleece off for testing to understand the quality of their fleece. CF shows you the comfort factor and as you can see, Sam just wins!
With age an alpacas fleece will gradually loose some of its quality but it remains a fantastic fibre. So next will be Cangaroo, Curly Wurly and Clooney, then Mary then Ambition.
Want to find out more about alpacas and their fleece? The British Alpaca Association has more information on their site here: https://www.bas-uk.com/fibre/