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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 5 of a 6 part
By Nic Cooper Southern
Part 5 Things we should be
emphasising - but are not!
earlier parts we looked at how growers of fibre can learn by understanding their
processor and retailer requirements, and examined fibre characteristics that
4 looked at attributes alpaca breeders feel are important but processors do not
necessarily rate as highly.
part looks at the reverse – attributes important to processors that alpaca
breeders have not yet really got to grips with yet.
Guard hair (along with other coarser
primary fibres) is one of the main blockages to use of alpaca in finer end,
higher value, garments.
Guard hair can destroy the uniformity of
a fleece by scattering quantities of coarser, differently structured,
occasionally differently coloured fibre, throughout the good usable fleece.
Guard hair concentrates in certain areas of the alpaca body and those areas are
then discarded, lowering the percentage of good usable fleece per total shear.
guard hair with secondary fibre crossing in front.
(Slide from The Suri Network USA)
Guard hair will reflect in cv number.
However the shape of the histogram also counts here. Histograms without tails
indicate lack of guard hair. As guard hair (in finer animals) comes from primary
follicles (which also host the alpaca sweat gland) guard hair cannot be totally
eliminated (despite what some Breed Standards have us all aiming for!).
The effect of guard hair can be
minimised by reducing the proportion of primary follicles to secondary ones (an
SRS approach - although a test and statistic they do not have a monopoly on), or
by making the primaries so fine that they do not cause the problem – another key
SRS statistic - but also seen in some alpacas with a comfort factor (CF) of
100%, or close to it.
A secondary effect of guard hair is its
differential uptake of dye. If one is seeking a consistent single colour in a
dyed product, a high proportion of guard hair can seriously hinder achievement
of the uniformity required.
And finally it is the guard hair that
sticks. It sticks out from the garment and looks bad. It sticks into the person
and causes prickle. It hinders the treasured flat smooth appearance of worsted
Guard hair sticking out from fibre
Processors have huge concerns at this
time about the level of guard hair in the alpaca they process. It is something
the industry desperately needs to concentrate on improving.
Some mills have a de-hairing process which can deal with
guard hair – but at additional expense both in terms of cost and also in loss of
processed (paid for) weight.
When the sheep industry was faced with
this problem they approached it by minimising guard hair, and by reducing micron
of guard hair and other primary fibres, reflecting in a reduced cv measurement.
They also culled heavily the sheep that were “hairy”.
Take home points
Guard hair is a critical
Guard hair can be minimised in
proportion by breeding to increase secondary/primary follicle ratios.
The effect of guard hair can be
mitigated by breeding the guard hairs and other primary fibres finer.
More specific genetic selection
will help eliminate hairy elements.
Processors hate colour contamination
with a passion. It may not be a problem in craft or fibre artist applications
where variegated fibre is more accepted. However it is a real problem in
Colour contamination has been a problem
in the sheep industry for many years, and still is. In alpaca the problem is
much larger. It is less a problem when blending into colour yarns or tops, a
fawn top can incorporate different fawn variations and also some slightly darker
fawn guard hair, as can a brown top.
Greys indeed simply bristle with colour
contamination. It is inherent in their make up.
A grey showing fibre commercial processors do not
like (but crafters love!)
However in a pure white process line, or
a pure black one, coloured fibres are a disaster for all concerned.
Generally colour contamination in lighter fleeces comes
from the guard hair of the alpaca being a different colour. In the “whites” this
is frequently a fawn or tan guard hair.
Genetically there is probably more
chance of seeing this coloured guard hair in the agouti lightened whites than
there is in the lightened recessive red of the extension gene alpaca. For white
breeders this should be an indicator of breeding preference. (For colour
genetics see the excellent books by Elizabeth Paul - Australia).
Unfortunately there is no such empirical
evidence that points to a genetic link with contamination and the various
genetic permutations creating black alpacas.
Currently industry breed standards
simply say alpacas come in a range of colours and any combination thereof.
This neither recognises nor addresses the problem. Nor does it send any signal
to the show-ring about messages to be sent to breeders.
The industry should – through its breed
standards and show-ring behaviour – be moving to recognise and eliminate the
fibre contamination that causes processors problems – particularly in the whites
As a footnote, this contamination issue
is generally where the contamination is spread throughout the fleece. Spots,
especially in extremities, can be easily removed. And empirically spots in
alpacas appear to have a different make up to spots in sheep. In sheep a spot
tends to have contamination spread into the white area around the spot, whereas
in alpaca the spot tends to be contained without spread of colour fibres outside
the spot area.
Fawn glazing on the head or backbone
area usually means the fleece heads to a fawn or ecru colour product (preferred
in Asian markets) where it does not downgrade the product at all.
Next take home points
Growers should take particular care in breeding
selection to avoid alpacas that have widely different coloured (guard) hair in
Judges and Shows should be strong
in sending this message too
When baling fleece be sure to identify and isolate
any fleeces with contaminated fibre.
Understand colour genetics to
minimise breeding for colour contaminated fleece.
Vegetable Matter Contamination (VM)
Excessive VM reduces the price paid for
VM can be “caught” by the processor and
extracted, however it does take with it good fibre, reducing yield. It can also
play havoc with machinery, causing breaks in yarns/tops, a less than perfect end
product, and a more expensive process.
process can handle VM better than the woollen one. How many woollen garments
have you seen spoilt by VM continuing to the end product? Time spent minimising
the VM in the shearing and sorting and preparation process will make processors
Updated July 2009