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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.
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ALIGNING FIBRE - Part 3 of a 6
By Nic Cooper Southern Alpacas Stud
Part 3 - What else a mill wants - a study
Earlier articles set the scene for growers of fibre to develop a
process that will help align their growing goals with those of processors and
retailers. Part 2 then went on to address fineness goals and shear weight goals
- weighting them commercially and indicating that the product you are producing
for will dictate the micron level you breed for.
Part 3 deals with more mill requirements - mainly uniformity -
and what the grower can do to best produce uniform fibre. Part 4 delves into
some of things that alpaca breeders talk about as being "great" properties of
alpaca, and investigates whether they truly mean much to the processors and
retailers, and whether growers can meaningfully build breeding goals to address
Making things out of synthetic fibres is
just so much easier for a mill. Synthetic fibres are inherently uniform. They
react predictably and consistently in the mill process and produce an end
product which can be predicted with confidence before processing.
Natural fibres are inherently diverse.
They can create havoc with machinery set to tight tolerances and can make
product very different from that predicted - or worse, different from that
ordered by the client retailer.
Fortunately natural fibres have a niche
with end buyers - so mills persevere with them. And with 2009 being the Year of
Natural Fibres, there is an opportunity for alpaca to benefit.
But mills (and end buyers) do want to do
everything possible to produce a product that best meets end consumer
specifications, and which slips through the mill unnoticed by the machine
mechanics and engineers.
Hence the importance of uniformity
in mill input.
Micron, uniformity, spin fineness, cv
and other measures
determines 70% - 80% of fibre price for a given weight. The lower the micron the
better, from a grower pricing point of view - although that is irrelevant to the
What the mill seeks is uniformity of
micron and uniformity of length across the fleece and amongst the fleeces in the
batch going to the mill. Usually this is more determined in the shearing and the
sorting than in the growing.
Shearing and sorting - whilst important
- is not within the scope of this article. So let's look at the things the
grower decisions can influence.
Co-efficient of Variation (CV)
helps determine uniformity in the fleece. Merino breeders have found that a low
cv also helps avoid fleece micron blow out with age (although drive the cv too
low and weight suffers - the fleece loses its “guts”). As a rule of thumb,
look for a cv that equals the micron you are producing (19 micron fibre, 19% cv).
A low cv fleece spins finer than a high
cv one for the same micron. Hence higher micron, low cv fleeces can achieve
similar results to lower micron fleeces with high cv. This is the concept of
“Spin Fineness” - developed in the 1940’s in sheep and translated to alpacas
in the hope that it translates (there is no research), and quoted on alpaca
Spin fineness is a good measure for
growers to quote because it encompasses in one measure the concept of a fine,
uniform micron which is what the processor seeks.
The example below shows how a histogram
(left graphs) can belie uniformity, and the OFDA 2000 “along the line” graph
(right graph) shows one important aspect of processor uniformity.
These two histograms display very
similar statistics (micron, cv, spin fineness etc
However they are very different in
their uniformity along the fibre length.
varies from 18.5 micron to 24 micron, whereas Zarin is within 2 microns right
of course is measured by weighing the fleece. Factors that determine fleece
weight are body size (surface area shorn), time of growth, speed of growth,
follicle density per defined area of skin and – if we consider not all fleece
but good usable fleece - the extent of that better fleece over the body area.
is clearly important. Whilst we do not wish to breed llamas (and their fibre
characteristics) we do want to maximise surface area. Big is good. However (from
part 2) we know that large body size and ultra-fine fibre do not tend to go
So maybe ultra-fine breeders need to
tolerate lower shear weights and smaller (not necessarily less robust) alpacas,
and those breeding for big frame alpacas need to tolerate a higher micron
is an interesting concept, emphasised by some.
Given that processors want a clearly
defined uniform length for their process input (and this is different for each
process), then time of growth and speed of growth are factors in determining
length. Getting to your required process length quicker means you will get one
(maybe two) more shears off your animal in a lifetime. But it may also dictate
non-seasonal shearing if you reach required length every (say) 10 months.
Whatever, it is important to avoid over
long fleece. To quote one Italian mill
(The Land, June 2005)
"We don't want SRS." On a
tour of four NSW properties, Claudio Lacchio, General Manager of Giovanni
Schneider, said Italian millers were against the SRS concept "simply because the
wool is too long and the crimp is definitely too bold".
"That performs through to the final stage - our clients
don't want to see the very obvious
SRS wool in the factory; we don't have a price for it," he said.
To be fair to SRS fleece, different
mills have different opinions and Asian mills do process the SRS type fleece
quite successfully. All mills are different!
The length issue would be managed by
non-seasonal shearing - but clearly hadn't been by the Australian sheep industry
in 2002 when the Schneider comment was made.
The process machinery that mills use was
originally designed around traditional sheep shear lengths – not the other way
around. Alpaca will certainly have to “fit in” as we will never be significant
enough for machinery to be developed for us.
However the most influential commercial
factor in (usable) fleece weight is the extent of the good fleece that you
get off a shear (also called uniformity). This can vary hugely – in our herd
from 67% to 90% of total fleece weight.
Consider the maths.
A 2.8 kg fleece (the norm) is shown in
the AGE distributions of fleece weight (printed in Part 2) as having a potential
genetic gain of 0.5 kg. which at 23 micron = A$6. This benefit clearly comes
from all the genetic weight factors combined.
However moving that fleece from 65%
usable (the norm) to 90% usable gains 0.7kg in usable fleece which at 23 micron
= A$8.50 additional income.
is clearly also an important factor in fleece weight. It is a measure many
breeders may wish to consider as part of their breeding programme. SRS champions
follicle density measurement - but does not have a monopoly on the measure.
In considering all of the factors involved in getting a usable shear weight
increase to enhance the value of the fleece, the two factors that stand out as
having the most influence on commercial value are the alpaca’s body size, and
the uniformity/extent of good fleece over the body.
As we suspect that body size has a
negative correlation with fineness, maybe the prime breeding goal for increasing
(usable) fleece weight is (at least initially) breeding for a greater uniformity
of good usable fleece across the surface area of your alpaca.
Take home points
Uniformity is a huge issue for mills.
Uniformity (of good fleece across the body) has the greatest effect on usable
- CV is
an indicator of uniformity, and low cv assists combating “blow out”. Spin
Fineness combines micron and cv to indicate "processability".
length is important - both for uniformity and meeting process target lengths.
However it can be a result of timing of shearing.
Updated July 2009