Today I went over to Faraway Farms Alpacas for research. (My current WIP is set on an alpaca farm, but that’s all I’m saying because I’ve only started it.) I met several lovely alpacas and learned a few things I didn’t know, so I thought I’d share them here.
As one would expect, all the fleece when an alpaca is shorn is used. But it’s not all used for the same thing. Different parts of the animal provide different qualities of fleece. The stuff that’s spun into the kind of yarn you are used to using for knitting and crocheting comes from the “saddle”, the sides and up across the back. The neck is used for rug yarn, which is thicker and not so soft and fluffy. (I came close to getting a rug from the farm shop, and someone may end up with one for Christmas this year if I’m not careful). The lower quality fleece can also be used for felting fiber.
On a completely different note, I found out that alpacas use communal dung heaps, which makes cleaning up after them easier. You don’t have to search the fields for individual “patties”.
I found out that adolescent alpaca boys are exactly like human teenagers—they have to be kept away from the mommies, daddies, and sisters because they like to run, jump, wrestle and spit….generally annoying the other alpacas who are just trying to relax and have a good time.
Speaking of relaxing, alpacas are a bit claustrophobic and prefer not to be enclosed. It makes them nervous. So they have open sheds. When it gets really cold & wet, there are walls that can be hooked up to protect them, but in general they prefer to be open to the air!
Alpacas are curious and they will come and examine you, but only on their own terms. They’re not pets and don’t want you to stroke them.
Apparently, they’re relatively easy to farm. They eat grass and hay and sometimes a special grain mix that gets fed to those in need, like the pregnant females. But mostly they just graze and eat their hay. Shearing is a specialized skill, so the farm brings in someone to do that, and then sends the resulting fleece out to the mill for processing.
They don’t smell particularly. If anything it’s a bit grassy. No worse than my dogs smell a few weeks post-bath! Their fur is water-resistant (and flame retardant, too!), which helps both the beats and the humans who wear the sweaters made from their fiber. They’re shorn in May, so when I saw them today they were at their heaviest coat and most of them wanted to stand in the shade all the time because of the heat.
I had a grand time at the farm. I highly recommend you check it out if you’re ever in the area, and call to make an arrangement to visit her shop. She has some stunning goods made from her own alpaca fiber and also made by fair trade artists in Peru.