Cotswold Vale Alpacas
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About Alpacas and their Care

Care of Alpacas and Husbandry tasks

Alpacas are delightful animals to keep; they are lovable and endearing,  making them a pleasure to be around and to work with.  Their docile nature and natural curiosity makes for easy handling and yet they are hardy and adapt well to our climate.   They are friendly, intelligent and always inquisitive.

They are members of the "South Americal Camelid" family and come mainly from "Chile and Peru" where they have been domesticated for thousands of years. The other South American Camelids are the guanaco, the vicuna and the better known llama. The alpaca differs from the llama in that the alpaca is considerably smaller and has a wonderful fleece of fine fibre which is much sought after for the production of luxurious textiles. 

Alpacas are bred for their fleece which in Inca times was known as the “Fibre of the Gods” and reserved royal use.
There are two varieties of alpaca; the "Suri" and the "Huacaya". The Suri has long, straight, silky hair which resembles dreadlocks whereas the Huacaya has a shorter, curly fleece which gives the animal its cute, cuddly appearance. It is the crimp in the Huacaya fleece that makes it an ideal fibre for spinning into knitting yarn.

Alpacas graze (about 5 alpacas per acre) and are very easy livestock to keep. They are generally healthy; require only small quantities of supplementary feed and fresh water.  They can easily be trained to walk on head collar and leading rein and becoming increasingly popular in the show ring.

A healthy alpaca can be expected to live for 20 years or more. The females can produce one cria (baby alpaca) each year for most of their adult lives

Alpacas in the UK

In the late 90’s, there were approximately only around 500 alpacas in the whole of the UK. Today there approx. 26,000 (2010/2011) and the number continues to increase with breeding, new owners joining the growing numbers of alpaca farms  and further imports.  Due to the continued development of Alpaca farming in the UK the quality of the alpacas available today is far superior to our original imported animals, as breeders strive to produce top quality alpaca fibre for the luxurious end of the textile market.

Whilst it is the fibre that is the ultimate product of the alpaca, the industry in the UK is very much in its infancy. We believe the industry will remain a breeding based enterprise for some years to come but ultimately it will be the quality of fibre in the national herd which will determine the long term viability of alpaca farming in the UK.

Breeding programmes in the UK are aimed at increasing the number of animals in the national herd and more importantly increasing the quality, including fineness and density of the fleece by the use of carefully selected stud males.  It is for this reason that we will aim to operate a highly selective breeding programme and to purchase top quality animals to widen and improve the genetics available within our herd.

Alpaca wool is the only natural fibre that comes in such a wide range of colours, the mills of Peru recognise 22 natural shades with seven basic colours, these range from true jet black, through the browns and fawns into white.  In addition to these colours there is a blue or charcoal grey and a rose grey.  If desired it also readily takes to dying and can also be blended with other fires offering textile designers endless possibilities. 

Alpaca fibre is more akin to hair due to its cellular composition, however it is generally described as a specialty fibre and a wool, it is second only to silk for strength.  The fleece is a medulated or hollow fibre which has great insulating properties providing garments which provide warmth without weight. The number of scales on individual fibre’s are considerably reduced compared to sheep’s wool and this helps to explain why wool allergic people to not have the same reaction at Alpaca fibres.

The market for the fibre in Britain is relatively undeveloped as the number of animals is not large enough at the moment to support a commercial processing industry similar to the wool industry.  However there are a number of fibre initiatives in operation in the UK including a national cooperative, British Alpaca. 

There are also a number of mini-mills in the country where
UK bred fleeces can be processed into yarn, many breeders are taking this route so that they can produce end products made out of their own fleeces for sale to the general public, this route to the market is on a cottage style industry scale.  So along with the prospect of a business via breeding alpacas, there is also possible opening in starting up a mini-mill and the production of yarn and garments for general sale.

With breeders concentrating on improving the quality, the alpaca is also now an established exhibit at many of the agricultural shows across the country with alpaca classes being held alongside the more traditional classes of sheep and cattle.

Fleece to Garments

Alpacas are shorn annually and produce between 2 and 5 kilos of fleece, the fleece is separated into different classes as the alpaca is sheared. The fleece is graded into four categories depending on its fineness, the thickest being - Coarse through Super Fine and Baby to the finest, Super Fine or Royal, a range from 35 to 17 microns. The sorting and classing of alpaca fibre is crucial to the eventual quality of the final garment and the initial separation of the coarser fibre from the neck and legs etc from the finer fibre of the main fleece is hugely beneficial in the later stages of production.

The fleece is a collection of hollow fibre’s and it is the diameter of the individual fibre’s that will ultimately determine the softness of the finished product. Any coarse (or thicker) fibre’s must be removed if a luxurious soft product is to be achieved.  The coarser fibre’s will not be rejected. They have many other uses from carpeting to duvet fillings.

There are many hand spinners who love to work with alpaca fibre. However, we believe that the success of the UK alpaca industry will depend on establishment of a viable commercial alpaca textile industry. We therefore will support the aims and objectives of the national cooperative, British Alpaca who collect and process the fleece on behalf Alpaca breeders and ultimately, we hope to get a financial return from the Cooperative which aims to redistribute the profits made from the sale of manufactured garments back to its members.

    Alpaca wool is a luxurious fibre that is stronger than mohair, finer than cashmere, softer than cotton and smoother than silk.