are members of the Camelid family, originating from the Andes region in
South America. Before the Spanish conquest, their fleece
was known as the "Fibre of the Gods". Only Inca royalty were
allowed to wear this luxurious fibre, upon pain of death.
fibre is a soft, lightweight, lustrous fibre, second only to silk
for strength, comparable to cashmere for luxury and more durable than
both. It is thermally efficient and does not pill like cashmere. It is
also much more acceptable on the skin for those with an allergic reaction
to wool, due to its special characteristics. The fibre comes in 22 natural
including a true rich black, through chocolate brown and russet, as well
as various shades of grey, honey and fawn, to a light champagne and finally
pure white. Textile quality fibre will typically have a fineness in the
range 18 27 microns.
quality alpacas currently command relatively high prices because suitable
animals are in short supply and their fibre continues to be in high demand.
Producing an average of 2-3 kilograms of useable fleece per year, alpacas
are economical to care for requiring only marginal land for grazing. They
also have virtually no environmental
impact on their pasture land, since unlike goats, they are a grazer
with a split upper lip, bottom teeth and dental gums on the top, which
prevent them from damaging vegetation roots. And as the alpaca has pads,
not hooves on its feet, there is less damage to the pasture surface that
allows faster re-growth.
Peru is currently the only major world producer of alpaca
fibre, with a national
herd of roughly 3 million animals producing 3500 tonnes of fibre of an
estimated world production of a little over 4000 tonnes. However, Peru
has limited scope to expand production further owing to the limitations
on available grazing in the Altiplano regions. Indeed, during a recent
visit to Peru, a major spinning company told us that they were concerned
by a steady decline in both quality and quantity of fibre available locally.
Bolivia, the only other significant producer is in a similar situation
with little room for expansion of their alpaca herd.
It seems clear therefore that any major expansion of the world alpaca
herd will most likely take place outside South America. Starting from
zero in the late 1980s, Australia has built up a substantial national
herd numbering around 40,000 animals, with current fibre production estimated
at 60 tonnes. The USA produces about 40 tonnes.
Projected growth rates are substantial, around 25 - 30% p.a., benefiting
in particular from the easy availability of cheap, low-quality grazing
land in these countries. However, natural limitations
on alpaca breeding rates (only one offspring per year, artificial insemination
not yet viable) and restricted import availability, means that the supply
of animals outside South America, although steadily increasing, will remain
severely limited relative to the expected demand for many years to come.
After a slow start, the number of alpacas
in the UK is increasing rapidly. There are now over 500 breeders,
with a national herd of 20000 animals growing by a third each year in addition
to special imports aimed at improving the quality of the existing bloodlines.
A number of organisations have been created to support the industry, such as
Although UK fibre production is still quite small, at around 10 tonnes,
it is already the largest indigenous producer of a natural luxury fibre,
having overtaken national production of cashmere and mohair by both volume
and value in the last few of years.
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August 27, 2008