The main reason alpaca have become such a popular domesticated animal is their wool. While alpacas look like llamas, their actual purpose could be closer compared to that of a sheep.
There are some differences between alpaca wool and sheep wool. Alpaca wool tends to be warmer and less prickly than sheep’s wool. Alpaca wool is also hypoallergenic because it does not contain lanolin.
History of the Alpaca
The alpaca saw its origin in South America, and that is where its wool was first used. Natives raised alpaca for their wool and it played a vital role for surviving in winter. Many years later, alpaca wool would become an export to other countries in Europe and North America. The silky and tough qualities of alpaca wool made it a highly desired material.
There are two types of alpaca and each one produces different wool. The two types are Huacaya and Suri; Suri being the rare type but also more sought after.
It is unknown why the Suri are more rare than the Huacaya; but it is believed that during the time of Incans, the Suri alpaca were kept exclusively for royalty so that their clothes would be of a higher quality than that of commoners. So Suri may have been bred in intentionally small numbers as a way to keep the social classes more diverse.
The reason Suri produce better fiber is because their wool is longer and silkier. In recent years they have been increasing in number since breeders tend to prefer them. The increased breeding of Suri alpaca has also resulted in there being a wider color variety in the types of wool.
Alpaca wool comes in over twenty natural shades of color and is also easily dyed. It has a hollow core which allows it to be lightweight but yet keep the wearer extremely warm
There are several steps to harvesting alpaca wool. The outermost layer of wool often can’t be used, this is referred to as “guard hair” and it is taken out of the equation before moving on to the usable wool.
Most breeders only sheer their alpacas once a year. They weigh the wool to get a good idea of the yield.
The process of spinning the wool into usable fleece is very similar to how the process is performed for sheep wool.
Once it is ready, the fleece is used for all sorts of products. Sweaters, rugs, blankets and similar items are among the most popular products produced by alpaca fleece.