Alpacas are becoming an increasingly popular livestock animal that many ranchers and farmers are raising in the United States and around the globe for their amazingly beautiful fiber and sweet playful disposition. The fiber of alpacas have been found to come in 22 different colors, while the quality of the fiber is dependent on the microns and the type of fleece on the animal.
There are two breeds of alpacas and each has its own unique type of fleece. The huacaya, the more popular of the two breeds amongst alpaca breeders in the United States have a “crimpy” type of natural wave, having an afro kind of appearance while still on the animal. The suri which represents approximately 18% of alpacas in the United States present a dreadlocks look on the animal and a extremely lustrous and shiny appearance, able to create very silky textured finished products.
A micron is a measurement for fiber in where 1 micron is the equivalence of 1 millionth of a metre. When the microns of a fiber are lower, the less coarse it is which makes it more comfortable to the skin and thus, the more valuable it is.
Each year when alpacas are shorn, it is the perfect time to take a sample from the fiber and send it to a fiber testing laboratory to find out the microns of each animal in any given herd. This will give you an idea of how good of a candidate your herd members are for breeding. Naturally, the better the fiber, the better the genetics are likely to be.
Another factor in the quality of fleece of an alpaca is the density. This can be determined by the amount of fibers that are present on an area of the animal’s skin. One good method of determining the density is by weighing an area of shorn fleece while considering both the microns and the length as well. A dense fiber with low microns are the best quality fiber on an animal.
Overall, a very dense fiber with microns under 26 are best for creating clothing for humans, while the lower the microns, the more comfortable it is for touching the skin.