a-menuoff.gif (941 bytes)home page
a-menuon.gif (932 bytes)who we are
a-menuon.gif (932 bytes)imports & exports
our chapionsour champions
learn with uslearn with us
a-menuon.gif (932 bytes)buy alpacas

a-menuon.gif (932 bytes)
getting started
a-menuon.gif (932 bytes)farm information
a-menuon.gif (940 bytes)
a-menuon.gif (932 bytes)stud services

a-menuon.gif (932 bytes)studs for sale
a-menuon.gif (932 bytes)
fibre and yarn
a-menuon.gif (932 bytes)insurance
a-menuon.gif (940 bytes)alpaca articles

a-menuon.gif (932 bytes)links

a-menuon.gif (932 bytes)contact

see West Melton

Alpaca Articles

Nic and Linda keep up-to-date with the latest in alpaca information, by reading widely, being a member of the New Zealand, Australian, British and American alpaca associations, and attending conferences worldwide.

They share this knowledge with others through holding industry training days and workshops, writing articles for industry magazines in New Zealand, Australia, UK, and USA and also through articles on this website and other websites.

Click here for more articles  

ALIGNING FIBRE - Part 1 of a 6 part series

By Nic Cooper Southern Alpacas Stud

The fibre industry is (after 20 long years) starting to arouse interest in the newer Western alpaca owning countries of Australia, New Zealand and USA. 

 Nic Cooper has, over the past 18 months, studied characteristics of alpaca fibre and looked at where these emerging fibre producing countries can best align their breeding goals and industry thrust to maximise grower returns from alpaca fibre.

 Part 1 Setting the Scene 



Generally everyone is enthusiastic about alpaca fibre – growers, processors, and retailers. Even other competitor fibre producers recognise that alpaca is a super fine fibre with magnificent properties and high value niche uses in the fabric and garment industries.

Some fibre artists and small manufacturers have done well on a small scale basis, but larger scale achievements in New Zealand are not great. 

From my in-depth research on alpaca fibre, a number of things are apparent.  

Ø      Most research is done with sheep or other fibre/hair based animals, so translation is necessary. Fortunately, generally translation appears to be a valid tool, because the fibres are similarly built. 

Ø      Research tends to focus around a very tightly-defined part, or characteristic of fibre - and failed to make the connection with the non-complementary effects or downsides in other research. 

Ø      The industry tends to still hold a few beliefs, that when evaluated, appear to be diversionary, or even wrong. 

This series of six fibre based articles looks at the aspects of fibre that may be appropriate to alpaca breeders - assessing them so that breeders who want to do so can make more informed decisions on what is important to them in the fibre that comes off their alpacas.

Hopefully this will stimulate debate, and if that is kept constructive, we will all gain. I thank the many people for their efforts in doing the research that these articles draw upon, and where possible, the source is acknowledged.



Fleece to Fashion

This is a phrase much used in the Western world alpaca industry - but rarely achieved, largely because alpaca owners have approached the industry with the mentality of a breeder of alpacas, not with that of a grower of fibre.

There are some large differences.

As the Breeder sees it

As the Grower sees it

Buy some alpacas – cute and expensive

Analyse alpaca fibre market

They grow fibre, told by seller it is valuable

Align your fleece with appropriate product

Shearer in the area, decide to shear alpacas

Seek buyer of that type of fibre, or build product outlets/market

Maybe do basic separation on shearing

Re-set breeding goals to grow more appropriate fibre

Put bags in garage or under bed

Shear at the right fibre length

Think should do something with fibre

Micron test prior to shearing

Seek out buyers

Clean fibre prior to shearing

Try to find out microns

Sort and skirt on the day

Maybe try to clean fibre

Bulk by uniform type

See how fibre fits buyers specifications

Ship to buyer   OR Ship to mill

Find a mill to card, spin fibre

Receive researched product   OR cash

Make a yarn, try to sell it

Sell product through pre-established outlets to pre-established customers

Have a product idea

Review cycle, expand product lines

Make product

Re-align breeding goals

See if anyone wants to buy it


Get disillusioned with alpaca fibre


A successful fibre industry depends, amongst other things, on getting the mind set of a "grower" in place - not that of a "breeder". And one of the most important things for a grower, is understanding the needs of their customer – be they direct retail, or the mill that processes for retail.



What a mill wants

The best way to find this out is, of course, to go and ask them - which over the past 18 months I have done. It became clear that the "breeder" and the mill talk a very different language, and some translation is needed to make their views meaningful to growers. 

All mill operators will have different priorities in their needs for processing fibre. This is because they focus their needs on the product they are making, and the machinery they have (and these two are usually linked).

Commonality of mill wants really comes down to a small number of things:

1.                  Uniformity of micron in the input batch

2.                  Uniformity of length in the input batch

3.                  Consistency of colour in the input batch

4.                  The right micron and the right length for the process to meet retail demand.

Interestingly these wants are more met by adequate fleece skirting on shearing, and correct bale composition on sorting, that by the breeding goals of the grower.


Why a mill wants uniformity above all else

It needs to be recognised that all mills are built and calibrated to a specific range of product. They accept different micron ranges, different fibre lengths, process differently and produce different end products.

Islay Wollen MillProduct processing was originally categorised as "woollen" or "worsted" and there is a difference between those processes in input (fibre specification), process (machinery) and output (end product characteristics).

Whilst the worsted process tends to produce the higher added value products and process the finer and longer fibres, it is frequently difficult to distinguish the process a mill undertakes from its name (e.g. Creswick Woollen Mill runs a semi worsted process). Pictured - Islay Woollen Mill

As a further example Giovanni Schneider (Italian mill owner with mills in Italy, Argentina and China) specialises in fine fibres (12 - 20 micron) whereas most Australian mills have difficulty processing below 20 micron. Schneider Mill in China

Schneider mills are fully integrated and are "Wool Combing Mills", having abandoned the old woollen and worsted labels.

(Schneider Mill in China pictured right)

One thing that is common across all mills is that they run machinery around tight batch tolerances. In a lot of mills a 24 micron run will meet costly processing inefficiency if there is 26 micron fibre in the input.

This will slow the process, increase cost, and downgrade the uniformity of the yarn, creating breaks and differential spinning performance. Similarly vegetable matter in the scoured input will spread throughout the yarn and also slow the processing, damage the yarn quality and increase loss factors 

The Australian Alpaca Carpet manufacturer was quite clear when we offered him our higher end micron fibre. “We need 32 micron fibre please. 28 micron fibre is not suitable”.


The mill has a customer too

The mill (unless processing for return to the grower) also has to look at the requirements of their client - let's say the retailer (to cut out many middle men).

The retailer has done their research and has in their minds eye the vision of the product they think they can sell to the public. They will have given the mill a whole heap of criteria they wish to see in the end product that the processor is to give them (there may be several processors and a multitude of middle men, but let's simplify that for these purposes).

These criteria are normally going to be in technical terms, and many of the criteria are to do with the set up of the mill and the technique of processing.

But those that impinge back on the grower may include:

  1. micron – which may be expressed by the retailer as the handle of the garment
  2. ability to hold even colour in dying (uniformity and lack of guard hair)
  3. lack of protruding coarser fibre (uniformity and lack of guard hair)
  4. price

So in summary, understanding the process - and the needs of those involved in the process -  is vitally important if the grower wants to produce a product from their alpaca that is suitable for adding value to, and giving a worthy return from, their investment in alpacas.


Updated July 2009

Nic Cooper and Linda Blake
Main West Coast Road, West Melton, RD1, Christchurch, 7671 New Zealand
Phone 0064 3 318-1917 | fax 0064 3 318-1927 | email alpacasnz@xtra.co.nz