Section 1.6: Alpaca Fiber – the Eco-Friendly Choice

Alpaca are renowned for producing the world’s most sustainable luxury fiber. Alpaca Fiber can be eco-friendly, softer than cashmere, and warm as polar bear fleece.

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Alpaca Fiber - The Eco-Friendly American Textile Choice.

“Agriculture is sustainable when it is ecologically sound, economically viable, socially just, culturally appropriate and based on a holistic scientific approach.” NGO Sustainable Agriculture Treaty 

As alpaca breeders we can tie into the socially conscious, ”green” movement, because alpaca and its fiber satisfy many of the requirements for eco-friendly, carbon-neutral, and socially responsible agriculture. 

The “Green Strategy” for alpaca: Why waste yet more fossil fuels manufacturing petroleumbased synthetic fibers when the natural solution is in our own backyards? We must promote all of the following environmentally-friendly attributes of alpaca fiber.

1. Sustainable

An ever-growing American herd provides a continuous source of fiber for textiles and other eco-friendly byproducts. Alpaca can be efficiently and effectively grown on thousands of small independent family farms across North America. Alpaca is both sustainable and fashion-ready!

2. Natural

Alpaca fiber is not synthetic or petroleum-based like polyesters, acetates, acrylics, nylon, rayon (a wood pulp product which requires dry-cleaning!), or Gore-Tex. Cotton, while a natural fiber, uses 25% of all insecticides applied to crops worldwide. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) deems seven of the top 15 pesticides used on U.S. cotton crops to be potential or known human carcinogens. Cotton now comes in several natural colors, but not the wide array of alpaca.

3. Animal-Friendly

Unlike mink or baby seal, which are killed to harvest their pelts, alpacas are not harmed when their fleece is harvested. Alpacas are shorn once a year and shearing not only provides producers with wonderful fiber, it benefits the alpaca by removing fleece that would otherwise render them susceptible to unhealthy heat stress during the warm summer months.

4. Durable

Alpaca fiber is one of the strongest (tensile strength) natural fibers in existence. This translates into durability and the ability to spin fabric that is very lightweight, yet strong. Archeologists have found remnants of Peruvian Inca alpaca textiles from centuries ago. No forced obsolescence here. 

Note: Research (Holt, Stapleton 1993) alpacas have a tensile strength range of 22-104 N/KTex. 35N/KTex is considered sound on conventional machinery. 40N.KTex is not considered minimum for sound wool.

Note: Though widely believed to be ‘abrasion resistant ‘ due to the fiber’s great strength, this has not been shown to be the case in day-to-day wear. Alpaca does not seem to be any more or less abrasion resistant than sheep’s wool.

According to the International Alpaca Association, ”it is important to point out that [alpaca’s] thermal characteristics widely surpass the ones of wool and that they are also better than the standard characteristics of mohair and cashmere. The resistance of alpaca fibers is also higher than the resistance of the other above mentioned fibers.” (International Alpaca Association 2010,

5. Environmentally-Friendly – “Going Green”

  1. Alpacas are the most environmentally friendly of agricultural grazing animals – they live lightly on the earth.
  2. Alpacas have soft, padded feet that do not cut into the topsoil. Sheep and goats are much harder on the earth because of the impact of their hooves, which are more likely to tear up and damage plant life and soils.
  3. Damage to topsoil decreases long-term soil fertility, increases soil erosion, and encourages the proliferation of weeds.

    Alpacas are generally kinder to pasture than sheep, preferring to browse on a variety of plants and grasses, without disrupting root systems.

  4. This allows faster pasture recovery and minimizes soil erosion.
  5. Where cattle (leather) pull up grass by the roots and compress the soil, alpacas do not. Rather, alpacas use their front incisor teeth to cut grasses off while grazing.
  6. Alpacas, as browser-grazers, enjoy eating brush, fallen leaves, and other vegetation that is often undesirable to other species.
  7. Alpacas’ fur, referred to as fleece, grows quickly and is lighter, warmer (meaning it takes fewer strands than wool to insulate), and softer than most sheep wool.
  8. Alpacas consume lower amounts of both water and forage relative to other livestock, and their efficient three-stomach digestive system metabolizes most of what they eat.
  9. Their pellet-like droppings are pH-balanced and are an excellent, natural, slow-release, low odor fertilizer, that may also be used as biofuel.
  10. Alpacas, due to the architecture and qualities of their fiber require few, if any, chemicals to grow their fleece or to have it processed into yarns, felt, and other specialty fiber products.

    Note: At this time, alpaca owners residing in white-tail deer territory must administer monthly injections of ivermectin to safeguard their herd from meningeal worm. Ivermectin is considered to be highly toxic and remains in manure, and presumably soil, for some period of time, the extent of which is not yet known. More research is needed to determine the long-term effects of this practice and breeders must decide how it may affect the labeling of alpaca as a “green” livestock. Similar considerations may apply to many of the medications or de-wormers often routinely used to maintain herd health.

  11. Sheep fleece contains lanolin. As a result, a multi-step detergent wash is needed to remove most of the lanolin prior to processing. Although alpaca also needs to go through a fiber-scouring phase, the chemicals required are fewer and less harsh. Ultimately, alpaca fleeces are relatively easy to process due to this absence of lanolin. The lack of lanolin also gives alpaca a higher yield of end-product by weight, often yielding twice the finished weight of sheep wool when comparing equal pre-processing fleece weights.
  12. Alpacas come in wide array of natural colors, offering far more choices for naturally colored yarn and products, as opposed to colors produced using chemical dyes.
  13. Manufacturing synthetic fibers is energy-intensive and can release lung-damaging pollutants such as nitrogen and sulfur oxides, particulates, carbon monoxide, and heavy metals into the air, as well as climate-warming carbon dioxide.
  14. Alpaca fleece may naturally resist intense solar radiation in rarified mountainous atmosphere. (Research is needed here – this bullet comes from retailers of alpaca products and is unsubstantiated to our knowledge).
  15. All parts of the alpaca fleece are useful; the higher micron or “hairier” portions (lower legs, britch, etc) may be used as natural weed mats around trees, heavy felt for boot liners, or for indoors rugs, to cite just a few examples.
  16. Alpaca clothing is considered to “breathe naturally,” as it tends to wick moisture and perspiration away from the skin.

Fiber isn’t just for breakfast anymore!

Alpaca end products and blends are beginning to turn up everywhere. Today, you can buy alpaca quilts, blankets, duvets, pillows, throw rugs, carpets, cushions, knitting yarn, scarves, shawls, toys, gloves, hats, ponchos, jackets, socks, coats, sweaters, horse blankets, saddle pads . . . and the list continues to grow. We can purchase alpaca products from farm stores, co-ops, through catalogs, and over the Internet, as well as from shops in our local malls. 

There are two principle methods of processing used to produce alpaca yarns and fabric. The worsted method processes the fleeces into product by “combing” (not carding) fibers to coax them into a highly parallel configuration. This method allows for fewer twists per yard, and these fewer twists produce less tension allowing for a smooth feel and a soft fabric. The worsted process also results in a wonderful draping quality. Suri fiber, being crimpless, offers no loft to a product. Loft is required in the woolen process, where fibers are “carded” rather than combed. The carding process encourages loft and is used to produce yarns for bulky sweaters noted for their warmth. Note that Suri and Huacaya fiber share both differences and similarities in terms of their beneficial uses. The alpaca, therefore, offers us multiple choices for production fabric qualities. Suri and Huacaya breeders are not in competition, but rather provide a synergy of choices and possible combinations of traits that increase the overall potential for profitability within the industry. 

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