What is an Alpaca?
The Alpaca (vicugña pacos) is a domesticated species of South American camelid. They are social herd animals that live in family groups consisting of a territorial alpha male, females and their young. Alpacas are gentle, elegant, inquisitive, intelligent and observant. They like having their own space and may not like an unfamiliar alpaca or human getting close, especially from behind. They are cautious and nervous if they feel threatened, and will warn the herd about intruders by making sharp, noisy inhalations that sound like a high pitch burro bray.
Two distinct alpaca breeds exist; The Suri and the Huacaya (pronounced Wuh-kai-ya). On our farm, you’ll see both.
The breeds are distinguished by the type of fleece they provide. Huacaya’s are the most prevalent—about 90% of the alpacas in the United States, and up to 98% worldwide are Huacaya. This breed has a round, bulky appearance.
Their soft, fine, spongy fiber grows perpendicular to the body in tightly crimped curls that intertwine, making a naturally elastic yarn (well suited for knitting), providing exceptional cold weather protection. The Suri alpaca is much more rare and expensive. Their fiber is long and fine, making it a better fit for woven goods. It tends to fetch a higher price on the international market. Huacaya's often look bigger than Suris because they are so fluffy, however, both breeds are about the same size under all that fleece.
Why Raise Alpacas?
Our ARI registered alpacas are bred to produce the highest quality fiber for resale. Fiber is harvested (sheared) once per year, typically in the spring, and is processed into several different levels of finished product.
The preparing, carding, spinning, weaving and finishing process is very similar to the process used for sheeps wool. Alpaca fiber is soft, and warmer that sheeps wool, not prickly, and has no lanolin, which makes it hypoallergenic. Alpaca fiber is also durable, naturally water-repellent, flame-resistant, and meets the US Consumer Product Safety Commission’s standards.
Alpaca fiber has been used for centuries. Two-thousand-year-old Paracas textiles are thought to include alpaca fiber. It was also used to make clothing for royalty, and known as “the fiber of the Gods.”
Today, alpaca fiber is used to make items such as blankets, sweaters, hats, gloves, scarves, sweaters, socks, coats and bedding. Suri fleece has more luster and feels a bit more slippery, making it ideal for high-quality outerwear such as coats and shawls. The famous designer Armani even uses Suri alpaca fiber to fashion suits.
There are more than 52 natural colors of alpaca fiber as classified in Peru, 12 as classified in Australia, and 16 as classified in the United States.