Section 2.7: Fiber Evaluation

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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Fiber Evaluation

Question: How can alpaca breeders increase profit from fiber production?

Answer: First and foremost, breed for uniformity in fleece characteristics.

If a breeder drastically increases the number of alpacas owned, this increases the fleece harvest, but also increases the need for feed, vet support, shearing, and maintenance costs in general. What we, as breeders, want to achieve is a way of increasing the quality of our product, though not necessarily the quantity on any particular farm, in order to improve our return on investment. The strategy is one of choosing quality over quantity.

We evaluate our alpacas on conformation (physical build and proportions), largely by using our senses, and on fiber producing characteristics, often using scientific measurements to verify what we cannot necessarily confirm through our senses. Subjectively, we use our senses of sight and touch to evaluate alpacas. Conformation, crimp style, lock structure, staple length, fineness, density, and general fleece weight are all things we can, with experience, subjectively evaluate through our senses. However, when it comes to fleece traits, in particular, most are capable of objective measurement, which can be used to corroborate our initial perceptions. 

Objectively, we can measure many fiber traits that are largely controlled by genetics.

  • Density - primary, secondary, and derived secondary follicle set
  • Primary/Secondary fiber ratio
  • Derived secondary follicles
  • Follicle organization
  • Follicle blood supply system
  • Crimping
  • Staple length

Some of these objectively quantifiable fiber traits are also influenced by environmental factors and nutrition, and are, therefore, capable of manipulation by the breeder even after an animal is "on the ground." 

  • Fiber diameter
  • Crimp
  • Fiber medullation
  • Fleece weight
  • Fiber tenderness

Certain fiber traits are largely subjective and our evaluation of these falls mainly into the realm of opinion and/or esthetics.

  • Brightness (can now be measured, but is a very new process.)
  • Luster (same as above)
  • Handle/Softness

A good eye, coupled with knowledge and experience, can produce a subjective measure. But, "my eye is not a microscope and my arm is not a scale." For breeders without substantial experience, relying on subjective assessments can go hand-in-hand with "barn blindness" – the inability to clearly and accurately evaluate one's own animals.

We will now open our selective breeding "toolkit" and investigate each implement we have available to evaluate and produce high quality alpaca fiber for profit.

Note on quality: While fineness, soft handle (uniformity in fineness), absence of thick primary fibers contributes to the return to the producer, uniformity in length, cleanliness, absence of second cuts and tensile strength is important for the processor to produce quality yarn. Delivering fiber for processing with these characteristics makes for cost effective processing of quality yarn and maximizes the return for the producer.

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