Alpacas are the world's second oldest domesticated animals (after sheep) over 6,000 years.
Alpacas are natives of the Andean Mountains in South America. Most of the world's population still reside there. Less than 2% of the world's population live in North America.
Of the six types of camelids, the dromedary and bacterian camels settled in the Desert. The quanacos, llamas, vicunas, and alpacas lived in the Andean Highlands of South America. About 1700 BC, the natives moved from a hunting to a herding lifestyle. The larger llamas (descendents of the quanacos) were used as pack animals. The smaller alpacas (descendents of the vicuna) were primarily used for their fiber. Both were used for food. Sometime before 500 BC the first alpaca fiber became instrumental in religious textiles.
The Inca Empire royalty used alpaca fiber for special celebrations and other occasions. The Spanish Conquest of the Incas in 1536 was a dark period for alpacas. The Spanish believed in sheep and other domesticated animals. The alpaca population was slaughtered from millions of animals to only a million or so. In Peru many small herds existed within the poor population. They used the clothing for warmth and ate the meat of the animal. Larger co-ops and breeders brought planned genetic programs and higher quality health and husbandry standards.
In 1836, a British industrialist, Sir Titus Salt, set up the first commercial mills to spin alpaca fiber into yarn on a commercial basis. Later in the 20th century, two major mills dominated the Peruvian market, Mitchell and Co. and Inca Group. These mills paid on bulk weight for white fiber. Thus, most animals were bred for that and white is still the largest color available. The majority of alpaca fiber in this country has gone to Europe and Japan for small market elite fiber market. China is now beginning to be a larger market.
Alpaca fiber's use has progressed from royalty to peasant Indian and now as a commercial fiber to only the highest quality small niche markets. Alpaca is soft (like cashmere or angora), warmer, stronger, lighter and without the scratchiness or the prickle factor of wool. Because of less lanolin and oil, alpaca fiber yields a much greater "milled" fiber than wool from the same we got. Alpaca is extremely durable and comes in more natural colors than all other natural fleece. When mixed or blended with merino wool, cashmere, cotton or silk, alpaca enhances the other fabric. The drape and handle improve. Alpaca is used in pillows, rugs, upholstery, sweaters, socks, gloves, suits, dresses, coats, and many other products.
Alpaca fiber is now processed in North America (although the largest portion is still shipped to Peru for processing).
While still a breeder's market here in North America, the alpaca fiber market in the U.S. is supported and encouraged by AOBA (the Alpaca Owners and Breeders Association) as a secondary market for alpacas - the fiber market. Long term, the fiber market must support the future prices.
An alpaca fiber co-op exists, AFCNA (Alpaca Fiber Cooperative of North America. Their products are made in Peru in a variety of colors for jackets, suits, hats, scarves, gloves, scarves and sweaters.
NEAFP (New England Alpaca Fiber Pool) was started in 1997 with the stated purpose to provide alpaca products made in North America. They currently use all-purpose alpaca yarn or fiber to produce throws, socks, pillow covers and sweaters.
Over time, if Australia and North America can produce national fiber markets, alpacas could be used in home furnishings, textiles (fashion), and any fiber market that would need a soft, strong high quality fiber.
In the meantime, will the breeder's market hold? Or some reasons it has and may continue.
- Absolutely safe registry based on DNA
- Closed to importation (this and the + 11-month gestation period for a single birth should help keep supply closer to demand). The founding alpaca breeders in North America showed great foresight in closing the registry. This, along with the 11-month gestation period, will keep supply closer to demand.
- The industry builds toward the future National Fiber Market.
-Excellent tax benefits.
All these combined with the great Industry Marketing and the rewarding lifestyle make raising alpacas not only easier than other livestock, but fun and rewarding as well.
Wednesday, July 27, 2011