Alpacas are members of the camel family whose ancestor actually started out in North America about 40 million years ago. As time passed, some of these animals migrated to Asia and others to South America. They became extinct in North America about 12,000 years ago. The two wild camelids in South America are the guanaco and the vicuna. The Andean Indians are believed to have started domesticating camelids about 6,000 years ago developing the llama from the guanaco and the alpaca from the vicuna. Their fiber was prized by Incan royalty at the height of their empire
During the Spanish Conquest in the early 1500’s, we were almost pushed to extinction as our pasture was turned over to the sheep the Spaniards brought with them. Those of us that moved to the higher elevations were the only ones to survive and are the genetic basis of modern herds. In the mid 1850’s an Englishman rediscovered how wonderful our fiber was and it is now in demand worldwide by the finest fashion designers.
In 1983, Chile began exporting alpacas and soon we began to flourish in the United States. In 1994, Peru and Bolivia also began exporting Alpacas and the North American herd continued to grow. In 1999, there were 23,000 alpacas owned by 2,100 farms. There are two breeds of alpacas, the huacaya and the suri. Suris make up about 10 percent of the total alpaca herd and have fiber that flows in long dreadlocks. The huacaya’s fiber is more crimped and forms into locks.
There are about three million alpacas in South America mostly in Chile, Peru and Bolivia. Because of this supply, the major mills that produce alpaca yarn and fabric are also here. In the United States our fiber is turned into beautiful products by the many fiber artists that have grown to love our fiber. Recently, North American alpaca owners, such as those on a Georgia alpaca farm, also organized a fiber cooperative to collect and market their fiber and finished products.
The small waves in the fiber are called crimp and they help form the fiber into locks.
Alpacas produce three to five pounds of prime fiber from each animal. At the markets and fairs, this fiber will sell for $3 to $5 an ounce. Their fiber is also tested to determine its fineness and uniformity which is represented as average micron, standard deviation, coefficient of variance and the percentage over 30 microns.
To maintain an accurate record of our ancestry, all alpacas in the U. S. are entered into the Alpaca Registry. This is done to verify that we are pureblood alpacas and to record our dam and sire. To assure accuracy, a small blood sample is taken and undergoes DNA testing.
Alpacas aren’t aggressive and are very good with children. They communicate with each other by humming, different body postures and ear movements. Because of this, they tend to have a calming and even revitalizing effect on humans.
Alpacas and Child
Because we are quite disease resistant and such efficient eaters (we normally live above 12,000 feet in the Andes), we are easy to take care of. We stand five feet at the head and three feet at the shoulders and weigh about 150 to 180 pounds. We love to graze in a pasture, but if we can’t we only need about one to two pounds of hay a day. We don’t need much water either. Our owners give us annual vaccinations and worm us occasionally to help keep us healthy.
Alpaca fleece has moved to the top of an elite group known as specialty fibers. Entry to this unique circle requires that a fiber be rare and extremely fine. Alpaca fiber easily meets these demanding requirements.
To touch and then to wear one of our 100 percent AlpacaWear garments requires superlatives such as stronger than mohair, finer than cashmere, smoother than silk, softer than cotton, warmer than goose down or the new synthetic fabrics like Gortex, and breathes better than thermal knits. And the really exciting part of these enthusiastic endorsements is that they are all true.
But there is more good news about our alpacawear. It is almost indestructible. Alpaca Wear clothing is extremely healthy and comfortable to wear. The absence of lanolin and other oils in the fleece and its extraordinary fineness of handle mean that our alpaca garments are hypo-allergenic and luxuriously soft on your skin. There is no prickle.
Unlike other mono-color animal fibers, alpacas produce fleece in more than 22 natural colors.