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"Alpaca fleece is the natural fiber harvested from an alpaca. It is light or heavy in weight, depending on how it is spun. It is a soft, durable, luxurious and silky natural fiber. While similar to sheep's wool, it is warmer, not prickly, and has no lanolin, which makes it hypoallergenic. Alpaca is naturally water-repellent and difficult to ignite."
- Alpaca fiber - Wikipedia
An adult alpaca produces 5 to 10 pounds of fiber per year. It sells from $2-$6 per ounce for raw fiber to $10 or more per ounce in a finished garment.
Here at Grazing Hills, we pride ourselves in having very fine animals. We send our fiber off, each year, to get tested on its feel, the micron count, and other factors.
We breed for density, conformation, and fineness. We have a lot of excellent bloodlines that we have spent over 24 years perfecting.
Alpaca shearing is an annual event for alpaca owners. Like sheep, alpacas need to be shorn for their health. They can actually die if they don't get shorn. Their fiber is so dense and warm, they can get heat stroke!
For us, shearing happens towards the end of May, beginning of June.
It takes a special shearer to learn the art of alpaca shearing. Typically, we hire a company based out of the Mid-West to come to the farm and shear our herd. But, in the effort of keeping our operating costs low, we now shear them ourselves. It's much more difficult than shearing a sheep. Alpacas are larger and you need to get the fleece off with just one pass of the clippers. "Second cuts" (a second passing of the clippers over a previously shorn area) are usually a loss for us, since they are too short to get processed in a mill. We still try to utilize all of the fiber and use the "seconds" for dog bed stuffing, dryers balls or felted art projects.
It's quite the adventure on shearing day, requiring all hands on deck! Someone is catching animals and lining them up; someone vacuums the animals, trying to suck up as much VM and dirt as possible; another is sweeping up bits of fiber in-between shorn animals; one other person is weighing fleece; while the rest of us are trying not to look like chickens running around with our heads cut off! Huge emphasis on "trying"...
A stressful as this day can be, we manage to get through it because this is the day we live for each year. We reap what we have sowed. We are thankful for our friends, who help each year, and help make this day much smoother.
Fiber artists and hand-spinners buy some of our raw fleeces. Knitters, crocheters, and weavers that appreciate the quality of natural fibers, purchase our alpaca yarn. Fiber cooperatives collect alpaca fiber and process it on behalf of the producer. Some commercial users are now buying the fiber. Alpaca fiber can be used for anything that sheep's wool can be, and then some.
Typically we send our fiber off to local mills, getting rovings or yarn back. We sell our product in local stores and soon on ETSY.