New View on Fibre
By Nic Cooper,
Southern Alpacas Stud
are many, and very few alpacas are strong in all aspects.
Micron and shearweight are generally seen to be the most important in huacaya.
is the fineness of the alpaca, measured as an average fibre diameter (in
microns). In developed markets the finer the fibre, the greater price you get
for it. Lower micron is better.
However different product lines demand different micron ranges – so if you have
a particular product line you intend producing for, that will dictate your
needs little definition. On the animal it is indicated by “density” which is a
subjective assessment. Actual shearweight is measured, and usually annualised.
These two traits are contra-indicative - lower micron and higher shearweight do
not easily go hand-in-hand. However research has shown that empirical scatter
graph plotting will allow identification of certain animals (genetic lines) that
tend to hold their density as they are mated for fineness, or conversely hold
their fineness as they are mated for density. These alpacas are prized
is a measure
of the variation of fibre micron around the mean. Generally the lower the
better, but we prefer to measure CV.
of Variation (CV)
which is a
mathematical result of micron and SD
shows the variation of fibre micron consistently for any micron level. Lower is
micron throughout the fleece is an important factor in processing, and can
affect price paid. Sheep have been bred for far greater consistency than
alpacas currently display, giving hope for scope to improve.
calculation that recognises that consistent fleeces (low CV) process better than
less consistent ones, and adjusts the micron (fineness) to account for this. SF
is therefore a better measure of fibre “processability”. Maybe reflecting the
more subjective term “handle”.
measures the %
of fibres below 30 micron. It has become somewhat of a “marketing number” for
alpacas since it name changed from “Prickle Factor" (PF) which measured the % of
fibres above 30 micron. However it is a sheep based calculation, and we know
alpaca fibre and sheep fibre are physically different. So is the 30 micron cut
off valid in alpaca?
CF is only
vaguely a measure of consistency and fineness. We do not use it.
the crimp of an alpaca by measuring the degrees the fibre curves in a 1 mm
section. (expressed in deg/mm). Curve research is in its infancy – even in the
sheep world, however note the following:
Processors are clear they
look for crimp in the fibre they buy, as crimp adds loft to the yarn and
allows production of lighter weight garments. This characteristic much in
demand in the world today.
Research in alpaca
recently has positively correlated crimp frequency (number of crimps per inch
of fibre) with curve. The more crimps per inch, the greater the curve value.
(Intuitively logical too)
Research by Yokum McColl
Testing Labs, and by Cameron Holt strongly negatively correlate (0.72
correlation) curve values and fibre fineness (the higher the curve, the finer
curve (best around 50 deg/mm) is nowhere near merino - this is a fibre driver we
are particularly keen on developing and breed towards.
varying types. It was indeed only 6 years ago alpacas in NZ and Australia did
not display crimp at all!
defined 2 ways.
Amplitude (the depth of
the crimp, as defined by the curve number).
Frequency (the number of
crimps per inch).
You may have
heard the term "deep bold crimp". This is generally high amplitude, low
frequency (6 crimps per inch) crimp.
Then there is
the "Hemingway" style crimp which is high amplitude, high frequency (10 - 11
crimps per inch) crimp.
Then there is
Merino - high amplitude, high frequency (22 crimp per inch) crimp.
(SRS) is a sheep term that is claimed to reflect animals that are able to
pack more secondary follicles per primary follicle in a given skin area. Hence
more density, finer, and more uniform fleece. Generally a longer staple length
its afficionados, there is some scepticism in the alpaca and sheep world about
whether SRS really gives production value gain.
characteristic more attached to suri alpaca. But huacaya display lustre too -
brightness, as light is reflected off the fibre.
tends to be more environmentally influenced, and is of course subjective in its
hugely important in alpacas, as it directly affects production value. Yet so
often it is not even mentioned in a purchase/sale situation. There are two
ways of seeing uniformity.
uniformity within the fleece - whether 90% or 60% of your total shear is first
grade. This reduces with the age of the alpaca, but is also widely different
from alpaca to alpaca and is the way - these days - champion alpacas are
uniformity within your herd.
fleece to make a product, the constituent fleeces should be similar (uniform).
Look at your herd statistics, not just individual alpacas.
not just CV!
The alpaca industry has a long, long way to go when we start talking about
fleece, fibre, and products.
Clearly compared to sheep (that have been bred to production targets for nearly
100 years), the alpaca has the potential to improve very significantly over the
generations if the proper, focused, and researched breeding plans are
Crimp, curve, and CV clearly have huge gains potential, as probably has
shearweight. Micron maybe less so - because huge gains have been made in the
last 5 years - although a 13 micron bale of alpaca will not be far off in
genetic improvement terms.
The industry also has a long way to go in the development of a (actually
several) high class product niche(s) for Australasian alpaca. High quality,
high added value, and branded unique from the South American commodity.
This is the challenge ahead for the alpaca. Achievable - but by dedicated
breeders with a long term focus, and dedicated fashion product enthusiasts who
are prepared to wait to the right time to launch.
Both goals are feasible. But both depend on time, numbers, volumes, and good