There is a shortage of Alpaca fleece but according to Tim Toshack, Lualto Alpacas, Yass, the scarcity is due to lack of specialty fleece rather than quantity.
“There is definitely demand for good quality fleece,” Mr Toshack said.
“In our business we are continually improving the characteristics of the fibre because we are able to sell all of our product.
“We have the fleece … but it is getting farmers to appreciate the need to get their fleeces properly prepared for sale after being shorn.”
Mr Toshack is in partnership with Graham Lugg in their Alpaca enterprise and are grazing 200 head on their small property west of Yass. The stock are run in conjunction with their Australian Alpaca Yarn/Alpaca Ultimate business which sources Australian Alpaca fleece to make yarn after processing in NZ.
They purchased their first stock in 2003 with the intention of grazing the 10ha property they owned at the time rather than spend their time mowing the excess herbage growth.
“We wanted an animal which was easy to look after, yet was attractive and amenable at the same time,” he said.
“We are selling surplus females to other breeders with many local sheep and goat producers buying our males to protect their flocks.”
Mr Toshack said the principles of breeding Alpacas for their fleeces were similar to those applied to Merino sheep.
“We want to breed as even a fleece as we can, with length of staple and fine microns and have it properly classed,” he said.
“There is a lot of variation between individual fleeces, they can’t all be treated the same but must be separately prepared and bagged individually.”
The partnership is concentrating on reducing the content of primary fibres in their fleeces and fixing a fairly consistent primary/secondary ratio … a concept Merino breeders are well aware off.
“With an Alpaca fleece, the mid-side sample is not necessarily a true indication of the entire fleece,” Mr Toshack said.
“Breeders need to look over the whole fleece and only then can they see where it fits within the grading system.”
Skirting out the “guard hair” is important and Mr Toshack said this was where a lot of preparation falls down.
“Often there is a rush at shearing but taking out the skirtings will make the fleece more valuable,” he said.
Mr Toshack said a good quality fleece weighing around one and half kg and measuring 22 micron would probably be worth $22 while a 26m fleece could be worth $8/kg. “We can sell the short and skirtings to fill doonas for bedding while the better fleeces are processed into yarn for knitters,” he said.
“There is upside if farmers concentrate on lifting their preparation standard.”