Alpacas (Lama Pacos) are one of the most beautiful South American Camelids. Related to the Llama, Guanaco and Vicuña, Alpacas have been prized for their fibre since Pre-Incan times due to the properties and quality of their hair.
With a population of 3,5 million in Perú, representing 75% of the world's total, the alpaca provides the main means of sustenance for thousands of families in the high Andes. The alpaca is usually 1,20m to 1,50m in height, and weighs between 45kg and 79kg. It has a smaller and more curved profile than the llama and has a distinguishing fringe of hair on its forehead.
Up at elevations of more than 4000m above sea level among impressive landscapes where daily temperature ranges can be as much as 30 Celsius degrees, thousands of rural families raise flocks of alpacas, as has been done for thousands of years, shearing the animals and selling their fiber every year, to provide those families with their principal income.
There are two varieties of the alpaca: .
Alpacas are shorn with knives or shears, usually once a year between November and April. The yield per animal is very variable, but a general average is about five pounds (2,3kg). There are specimens, however, which can yield fleeces weighing up to 15 pounds (6,9kg).
The color of the fiber is variable, up to 22 colors having been defined, but is more uniform than that of the llama. Alpaca colors range from white to black through grays, fawns and browns. This characteristic is not to be found among other natural fibers, the 'noble' fibers, used in textile production.
The fiber is classified manually according to its fineness and sorted into qualities such as Royal Alpaca (less than 19 microns), Baby Alpaca (22,5 microns), Super Fine Alpaca (25,5 microns), Huarizo (29 microns), Coarse (32 microns) and Mixed Pieces (short fibers generally coarser than 32 microns).
The names of these qualities do not necessarily reflect the age of the animals or other phenotypic characteristics. The appellation 'Baby', for example, is applied to products (tops, yarns, cloth, etc.) where the average fiber diameter is 22,5 microns. The fiber used to obtain this quality does not necessarily come from baby animals; it could easily come from an adult animal with a very fine coat.
Each quality is employed to create different products such as cloth, scarves, sweaters, blankets, carpets and so on. The alpaca may also be blended with other fibers, generally of natural origin.