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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 5 of a 6 part series

By Nic Cooper Southern Alpacas Stud

Part 5 Things we should be emphasising - but are not! 

In earlier parts we looked at how growers of fibre can learn by understanding their processor and retailer requirements, and examined fibre characteristics that processors want.

Part 4 looked at attributes alpaca breeders feel are important but processors do not necessarily rate as highly.

This part looks at the reverse – attributes important to processors that alpaca breeders have not yet really got to grips with yet.

 

 

Guard hair

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.

 

 

 

Straight coarse 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 cloths.

 
  guard hair

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

  1. Guard hair is a critical processing hazard.

  2. Guard hair can be minimised in proportion by breeding to increase secondary/primary follicle ratios.

  3. The effect of guard hair can be mitigated by breeding the guard hairs and other primary fibres finer.

  4. More specific genetic selection will help eliminate hairy elements.

 
 

Colour contamination

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 commercial processing.

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.

 
  grey alpaca

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 and blacks.

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

  1. Growers should take particular care in breeding selection to avoid alpacas that have widely different coloured (guard) hair in the fleece.

  2. Judges and Shows should be strong in sending this message too

  3. When baling fleece be sure to identify and isolate any fleeces with contaminated fibre.

  4. Understand colour genetics to minimise breeding for colour contaminated fleece.

 

 

Vegetable Matter Contamination (VM)

Excessive VM reduces the price paid for fibre.

VM contaminationVM 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.

The worsted 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 happier.

 

Updated July 2009

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