Inspiration hit early this century - We live on the high plains of Wyoming with a stunning view of Medicine Bow Peak. There are seven months of Winter (in my opinion), it is sparsely populated, and it is the most beautiful place I've ever seen - all that was missing was Alpacas! "I must to have Alpacas!", I thought (with dramatic emphasis). A few years and a lot of 'Life Happens' later, these amazing, silly, beautiful animals came into my world and I was swept up into the Alpacalypse.
Some would say it takes a hearty soul to weather the high plains of Wyoming. "Weather" being the key word. We need proper clothing to face the cold, the snow and the wind. Alpacas seem to be engineered by Nature, adapting successfully to extreme climates. Originating in the Andes Mountains of South America, alpacas have been domesticated for over 6,000 years, raised for their superior fiber. Alpacas are pseudo-ruminants with a three-compartment stomach, allowing them to maximize the nutrition available in "Ichu" - the native rangeland grass in the Andes - which is low in nutrients, to produce an ideal fiber which is resistant to water, oil, and even flame. With a soft pad alpaca feet are gentle on the earth, and with a hard palate on the roof of the mouth alpacas nibble on grass from the top, rather than pull it out from the root like other grazing animals, making them environmentally friendly. Alpacas are truly amazing!
Versatile Luxury Fiber
The Possibilities of Alpaca Fleece Are Endless
Alpacas are raised for their soft and luxurious fleece (sometimes called fiber). Each shearing produces roughly five to ten pounds of fleece per animal, per year. This fleece, often compared to cashmere, can be turned into a wide array of products from yarn and apparel to tapestries and blankets. The fleece itself is recognized globally for its fineness, softness, light-weight, durability, excellent thermal qualities, and luster.
Let’s start by comparing alpaca fleece with wool from most breeds of sheep. In general, alpaca fleece is stronger, lighter, warmer, and more resilient. Finer grades of alpaca fleece (known commercially as "Baby Alpaca") are believed to be hypo-allergenic, meaning it does not irritate your skin as sheep’s wool sometimes does. Unlike sheep’s wool, alpaca fleece contains no lanolin and is therefore ready to spin after only nominal cleaning. Prized for its unique silky feel and superb "handle," alpaca fleece is highly sought-after by both cottage-industry artists (hand spinners, knitters, weavers, etc.) as well as the commercial fashion industry.
Alpaca fleece has a great variety of natural colors, making it very much in vogue: 16 official colors (white; beige; and shades of fawn, brown, black, and grey) with many other subtle shades and hues. White, light fawn, and light grey can be readily dyed, thus offering a rainbow of colors for the fiber artist. Alpaca fleece can also be combined with other fine fibers such as merino wool, cashmere, mohair, silk, and angora to attain incredibly interesting blends.
- Alpaca Owners Association