LearnAlong—All about Alpacas

The fourteenth Fibreshed learn-a-long took place at Lorelee farm on July 27.

Lori’s fibre animals and companions (llama, alpaca, and goats)

Wendy Holtz, who has a herd of alpacas on Thormanby Island, was there to tell us about her experiences with herd behaviour and much more. We learned that alpacas can sometimes be expensive; female animals can cost up to $10,000 dollars. They like to eat only grass (and hay in the winter) and garden vegetables. They will not eat weeds. They are also intelligent and adaptive. They love children, and while they willingly allow children to play with them they are sometimes reluctant to be touched by an adult. They can be trained to walk on a halter and will follow a familiar human into shelter

Because alpacas like to roll in patches of dusty soil, Wendy vacuums her alpacas with a shop vacuum before shearing.

Picking alpaca fibre by hand

Wendy uses a shearer who knows her animals, and whom they remember. Shearing an alpaca is somewhat different than shearing a sheep. Because fibre from the belly is the softest and most valuable, it is sheared first and kept separate. The alpaca is laid on a flat surface on its side, and the belly is sheared from hip to the beginning of the foreleg. Then it is turned onto its other side and sheared the same way, and the resulting mat of fibre is rolled off in one piece. After that the remainder of the animal is shorn.
The fibre is then washed and processed into roving.

Commercially washed and carded alpaca roving

Raising alpacas has its challenges for some farmers who are interested in using the coats for spinning. If the alpaca has shorter fibres, it is harder to spin. Therefore the alpacas are often shorn less often. However, if the animals go unshorn through a Coast summer, they suffer from the heat and need a lot of water. It is also difficult to source quality grass-only hay; hay with alfalfa content causes digestive problems and is expensive. Spinners love alpaca fibre, and when it is spun into yarn is twice as valuable as roving; spinners, your work is valued! At the LearnAlong we experimented with alpaca fibre and find it felts well and makes into beautiful pillows and duvets. Let’s keep supporting our alpaca farmers.

Experiment to see if alpaca fibre can be felted

Joining the Farmers Institute is one way to support alpaca farmers. Lori gave us a short presentation on how to join and what the Institute is doing to promote healthy, sustainable farming on the Coast. For further information, check their website.

Laceweight alpaca yarn spun by Yvonne Stowell
Shawl knitted with laceweight alpaca yarn

Alpaca yarn will stretch. To avoid stretching it is sometime combined with other fibres.

Alpaca yarn held double with linen yarn

Alpaca yarn must be washed carefully, or it will felt.