Flat World Alpacas
Fibre of Kings
History of Alpacas
Alpacas are small appealing members of the Camelid family which includes Llamas and were treasured by the ancient Inca civilization. Today, alpacas still live on the Andean plateau in the mountains of South America. These beautiful animals were one of the key foundations of Inca commerce. The Camelids provided food, clothing, transportation and fuel to the Incas, who thrived in a harsh and demanding environment.
Alpacas and llamas have been domesticated for over 5,000 years. Today, approximately 99% of the world's three-million alpacas are found in Peru, Bolivia, and Chile. The center of the alpaca textile industry is in Arequipa, Peru. Yarn and other products made from alpacas are sold primarily in Japan and Europe.
The first alpacas arrived in Canada in the late 1980s. However, it wasn’t until January 1992 that the first large importation of alpacas, originally from Chile landed in Canada. They had been purchased by a small group of Canadian alpaca farmers and investors. Today, there are over 16,000 registered alpacas in Canada.
Alpacas are recognized by their compact size, bountiful soft fibre, long necks and ears that point slightly outwards. A short, wedge-shaped head is adorned with much wool and large, expressive eyes. Their soft, padded feet have two toes and two large toe-nails. Alpacas do not have upper teeth but, instead have a split upper lip used for grasping hay or grass. They tend to mow pastures as opposed to destroying them. These characteristics make them very environmentally friendly.
Adult alpacas usually weigh between 100 and 170 pounds and will measure 2 to 3 feet at their shoulders. Their life span is 15-25 years. Alpacas come in 22 natural colors. Besides basic white and black, there are many beautiful shades of brown, gray, tan and fawn (cream). White markings often decorate the face, necks, legs and feet of alpacas.
Alpacas are very herd-oriented and prefer the company of their own kind to that of other species. Within the herd, there is a hierarchy of dominant and less assertive animals and when frightened, alpacas tend to band together. The gentle character of alpacas makes them easy to handle by persons who understand their ways. While alpacas must become accustomed to human touch, most can easily be trained to accept people and to be haltered.
Alpacas communicate with each other through a soft, pleasant humming sound. Mother alpacas also make a clucking sound to their Cria (baby). Other common communication includes a high pitched, repetitive call an alpaca will make to alert the herd of a potential threat, such as the sighting of another animal in a nearby field. Often, the same alpaca will be perceived as the guardian or "watchdog" of the herd and the others will gather behind the one who is calling and will gaze off in the same direction.
Alpaca fibre is prized for its softness (equivalent to mohair), uniform fineness and strength. It is 3 times stronger and 5 times warmer than sheep's wool. It is also hypoallergenic. The value and durability of alpaca fibre has been recognized by world textile experts for many years. The best fibre (softest, finest, most uniform and dense) is found on the alpaca's sides and loin. The leg, chest, face and neck wool often consists of thicker, less uniform fibres.
There are 2 breeds of alpacas that have different fleece types with quite different characteristics – Huacaya (pronounced wa-ki-a) and Suri. Often the alpacas are referred to as simply Huacaya or Suri. The Huacaya is characterized by fibre that is dense, crimped, and wooly in appearance. This abundant coverage gives the Huacaya a soft and huggable look and might explain the overwhelming popularity the Huacaya enjoys (90% of Canadian alpacas are Huacayas). The Suri has straight, lustrous, fine fibre which is elegantly draped in long pencil locks.
Alpaca wool is processed into high quality fashion garments such as suits, jackets, skirts, and coats. Sweaters, scarves and socks knitted from alpaca fleece are soft, light and warm. Because of its natural warmth, alpaca fibre is also used as quilt filling.