Alpacas are really taking over the limelight – with everything from LED lighting to alpaca knitted products…..but what is all the fuss about?
Well, I can honestly say that alpacas are the most versatile of all ‘farmed’ animals. They are predominantly bred for the luxurious fibre, known by the Incas as the ‘fibre of the Gods’ which was reserved for royalty only. Today there are approximately some 60,000 alpacas in the UK now fulfilling many roles from therapy animals, guards for poultry, trekking, breeding, pets & fibre growers to name but a few.
A brief history
Alpacas have been in the UK & Europe since the 19th Century, mainly in zoos although Queen Victoria & Prince Albert owned 2 alpacas, one white & one black from which an heirloom coat was made for the Victoria, initially commissioned by Albert.
The first privately owned alpacas in England were surplus zoo stock & these formed the foundation of several early alpaca herds. In 1989 there were only 150 alpacas in the UK & it was not until 1995, with the first import of around 300 alpaca from Chile, that interest in alpacas began to grow. The first import of Peruvian alpacas in 1998 gave the few breeders access to the enhanced genetics of selective breeding which had produced a thriving alpaca fibre industry which still exists in Peru today.
In 2018, there is thought to be around 55,000 alpacas in the UK, with 35.000 or so being registered on the British Alpaca Society (BAS) pedigree registry. Many breeders now compete at shows & events specifically for alpacas and the UK currently has a rapidly growing industry.
Alpaca is not strictly wool but a yarn. Technically a spun fibre used for textiles is a yarn, where wool is the ‘coat’ of a sheep. So why alpaca?
- Alpaca is hypoallergenic – alpaca contains no lanoline which those with allergies tend to be sensitive to;
- alpaca is warmer than wool – alpaca is a hollow fibre where wool holds pockets of air;
- alpaca is softer than cashmere – most is, but some isn’t! The scale profile of alpaca is much longer and lower than that of sheep’s wool giving alpaca a better handle or feel;
- alpaca is waterproof too – the scale profile is such that alpaca rarely reaches a saturation point. because the fibres are hollow this aids evaporation using the alpacas own body heat.
- alpaca is also more flame-resistant than plant or synthetic fibres & additionally in case of fire, it does not melt onto the skin as synthetic textiles do;
- alpaca does not need to be washed, rather it requires airing as it does not take on odours;
- alpaca is a natural & luxurious fibre, no animals die during fibre shearing & with alpaca fibre coming in 23 natural colours, with more than 300 shades from a true-blue black through to brown or bay-black, browns, fawns, lights, white, silver-greys & rose-grey the choice of colours is huge;
- so why not alpaca?
Our Yarns & Products
All of our felt, yarns & knitted products are made from our own herd of alpacas based here in East Norfolk and each is named after the alpaca or alpacas whose fibre has been spun to create the luxurious yarns. Our prizewinning herd is known as Alpacas of East Anglia & our alpaca’s fibre is scientifically measured each year enabling us to provide an accurate Grade to describe of all our yarns using the table below:
Grade 1 Ultra Fine (Royal baby) < 20 microns
Grade 2 Superfine (Baby) 20-22.9 microns
Grade 3 Fine 23-25.9 microns
Grade 4 Medium 26-28.9 microns
Grade 5 Strong (Adult) 29-32 microns
Grades 1-3 inclusive are ideal to wear next to your skin.
Baby alpaca is not used as an adjective for a young cria in the textile world, it refers to the fineness of the fleece an alpaca – even if that alpaca is10 years old.
A micron is an abbreviated term for a micrometre or a millionth of a metre (1/1,000,000 metre) which for the non-metric is approximately 0.00004″ and almost invisible to the human eye.
For size comparison, a human red blood cell is about 5 microns across, with human hair being at least 100 microns, at least 5 times thicker than alpaca fibre. Most Llama hair is 55-65 microns.
Alpacas are shorn just once a year, usually from May until the end of July depending on geographic location. We shear in May every year. Shearing is initially undertaken for welfare purposes with fibre harvest a secondary condition. Once shorn the fleeces are carefully skirted (to create a uniform batch of fibre without vegetation). Once skirted they are weighed and Graded before being processed here on site.
There are zero miles from paddock to processing so we have a very small carbon footprint and our fibre processing mill is run in a similar ethos to that of the alpacas – eco-friendly, sustainable & with a low footprint. We utilise rain and collect, store & recycle all of our water. Being in East Anglia our piped water is very hard making scouring (washing) of fleece problematic. By using rainwater we negate that problem as well as being eco-friendly. We also endeavour to re-use/re-cycle packaging where ever possible too.
For fellow breeders throughout the UK, Europe and Internationally, we offer a processing service second to none. We pride ourselves on our customer service and look forward to your custom. We are only too pleased to help should you have a question regarding any of our products or services.