The quality of an alpaca’s fleece can be measured by looking at various fleece characteristics such as density, fineness, staple length (or regrowth), crimp, lock structure, lustre, coverage, handle, colour, and guard hair (or medulated fibre). We can scientifically measure the fineness of a fleece by sending away a fleece sample. We use both Yocom-McColl and the lab in Olds, Alberta that uses the new OFDA method of fibre testing. Fineness is a very important characteristic of a good quality fleece. The finer the fleece, the softer that fleece will feel.
Density is another important fleece characteristic and can now be measured. Density refers to the number of hair follicles per square millimeter of skin. Because you actually need your vet to take the skin sample and then have it sent to Australia where they have a lab that is able to do follicle testing, not many breeders are having this done yet. Most breeders rely on the traditional methods of checking for density. By parting the fleece on an animal, you can see how tightly packed the fibre follicles are by looking at how much skin can be seen at the roots. The harder it is to part a fleece can also be a good indication of a dense fleece. One may also try pressing down on a full fleeced animal and feeling for resistance. The harder it is to get down and feel the alpaca's spine, the more dense the fleece is. However, alpacas with a very course fleece may feel dense which is why it is also important to know how fine a fleece is by having it tested.
Staple length refers to the length or how many inches of fleece an animal will grow in a year. This is also very important as fleece length and density both determine the total fleece weight of an alpaca, and thus, profit. Although most alpacas will produce less fibre as they age (regrowth), in young animals, a yearly growth of five or six inches is ideal.
Crimp and lock structure (stapling) are very evident in quality alpaca fleeces. Crimp refers to the waves or ripples in a group of fibres and can be measured in the number of crimps per inch. Crimp is usually associated with finer, denser, and more uniform fleeces and is an important quality when judging. Crimp is what provides loft or memory to the fibre. A fleece may also have a low or high amplitude crimp, which can be described as the height of each wave of crimp. Regardless or crimp style, it is important that the crimp be uniform throughout the fleece of an animal. It is also important to note that suri alpacas do not have crimp.
Lock structure is important in both suris and huacayas. It refers to the way in which an animal's fleece separates into groups of bundles of fibre. In suris, lock structure is the twist (preferably starting right from the skin) that the fleece exhibits. These locks should be uniform throughout the fleece. In a good quality huacaya fleece, good lock structure or bundling will result in very little webbing when the fleece is opened or parted and also should be uniform throughout the fleece.
Alpaca fleece must have a good handle. Good handle is found in fleeces with low microns (fineness), low CVs (Coefficient of Variation), and uniformity. For example, a 21 micron fleece with a 16 CV will have a better handle (will feel softer) than a 21 micron fleece with a 20 CV. Uniformity can be assessed through histograms with the SD (Standard Deviation) and CV figures. More explanation on CV, and SD can be found by clicking on the Histogram page. Also, a fleece with less guard hair or medulation will reduce the prickle factor. Medulated fibres are the courser, straighter hairs found especially on the neck, belly, and legs. It is important to breed for decreasing amounts of guard hair. In addition, good suri fleece will always have a cooler, slicker handle.
Lustre (or shine) and colour are two more factors to evaluate when looking at fleeces. Suri fleece, inparticular, must have excellent lustre or shine. Alpacas come in all colours including greys, blacks, browns, fawns, and white. White can be desirable as it can be dyed to any colour yet all the other natural colours have their own appeal as well. It is important however, to breed for animals of solid colour unless you can find a market amongst the spinners and weavers for pintos and appaloosas. In a commercial fibre industry, colour consistency is crucial.
Last Updated ( Friday, 04 July 2008 06:50 )