Saturday, December 15, 2012

Sheep's Wool vs. Alpaca Fleece

Is there really a difference?

From my reading, research, product development experience and use in the field, I would say yes.

Alpaca fleece is as soft as cashmere, warmer than sheep’s wool, hypo-allergenic and almost completely waterproof.   This is the tag line I hear most often in the alpaca world.  I am going to dissect this phrase comparing the two fibers.

Alpaca fleece is as soft as cashmere:  Sometimes.  Some alpacas can also feel as cuddly as a Brillo pad.  However, many farms promote quality breeding programs with super fine, 16-18 micron fleece, which is extremely soft.  Plus, alpaca does not have the scales that wool has, so the strains are smoother.  Wool production has made great strides in increasing the softness of the strains of various sheep herds.  This is evident in a company call Rambler's Way with great wool products.

Warmer than sheep’s wool:  Alpaca is a hollow fiber, where sheep wool has pockets of air.  Much like Polar Bear fur, the air pockets allow for heat to be trapped, creating greater thermal capacity.  Thus, alpaca does tend to be able to be warmer than wool.

Hypo-allergenic: Alpaca is considered a dry fiber, without lanolin that is found in sheep’s wool.  Some clothing lines of wool are now being promoted as “superwashed” for next-to-skin capabilities by removing the wool’s lanolin and barbs.  According to Textile Chemicals: Environmental Data and Facts, the superwashed wool is treated with synthetic resins (polyamide / epichlorohydrine or polyurethane), a method that can include such chemicals as chlorine and hypochlorous acid, sulphuric acid, sodium hypochlorite, alkali metal salts of dichloroisocyanuric acid (DCCA) and an acid-stable wetting agent. The chlorination process for wool has lead to enormous environmental problems.  Alpaca now offers an eco-friendly alternative to natural fiber active wear.    

Almost Completely Waterproof:  Yes, if you pour water on alpaca, it will get wet. However, it does offer great wicking abilities.  Wool will absorb up to 50% of its body weight in moisture, but after this there is a saturation point and the sweat can sit next to skin, increasing discomfort and likelihood of blisters (socks rubbing against the skin).  Because alpaca is hollow, it traps in more heat and mechanically pushes the water away, never having a saturation point on the skin.  Essentially, the water evaporates because of the warmth of the alpaca.

So the answer to my initial question, is there really a difference?  Definitely.

Alpaca Fiber Classification

  • Royal Alpaca - less than 18 microns 

  • Super Fine / Baby Alpaca - less than 20 microns

  • Fine - less than 25 micron

Medium - under 30 micron

  • Strong - 30 microns and greater 
  • Mixed Piece- short fibers, coarser than 32 microns - used for felting 
* A micron is a measurement of length equal to one millionth of a meter and used to measure the width of a single alpaca fiber to determine its fineness / softness.  
Most human hair is at least 100 microns, 5 times thicker than alpaca fiber.  Most Llama hair is 55-65 microns

Monday, December 3, 2012

Making the Most of Trade Shows & Local Markets

Yes, for the most part trade shows can feel like a lot of work without necessarily a full payback.  However, its up to you to get the most out of it and really help launch you, your product and your business.  Here are a few ideas to make the most of your hours on the floor.

Say hello greet people as they walk by.  Don't overwhelm, just acknowledge.  Offer a tag line with general information.  For example, I usually say, "Hi, all of our products are hand made in Montana from our own alpacas."   Do not get discouraged if they do not make eye contact or just smile and walk away.  Remember how many people are vying for their attention. 

Pay attention-  Do not read a book or be on the phone.  This is an opportunity to meet viable clients / customers.  Be available to them.  If you look bored, they will move on quickly or not even bother to stop.

Think long term -  Just because you have low sales does not mean you have wasted your time.  Be in it for the long run.  Many marketing experts claim buyers need to see you advertisements / products seventeen times before they buy.  That is why it is crucial for you to be at these types of shows.  

Dress the part- In Montana, we are quite casual, where blue jeans are the norm even at higher end restaurants.  However, you need to look professional, clean and up-to-date when your are selling your products.  A logo on a shirt costs $5-10.  Invest a little money and look the part.

Be informative and enthusiastic.  Like your product and know the ins and outs of your business.  If you talk about alpacas as I do, offer interesting information. They have a great story to tell.  Oftentimes you will be educating people what an alpaca is and what value it offers.  Be prepared for when people say they can get the same thing in Peru for 10 dollars.  While this is true, they are not in Peru.  The US has a higher cost of living, it costs us $42 per pound to make it into yarn, plus the expenses of overhead of not only raising livestock but being at the show.  Additionally, Peruvian garments are not necessarily full alpaca. They can be made from llama and/or guanaco which are not textile animals.  Many also ask the difference between wool and alpaca fibers.  You need to be well versed on the differences of these materials. 

Be user friendly -  If you are selling items be able to process a credit card.  I use Square Up and it works great if you have a Smart phone. There are many types of POS options available.

Stand out - Do not just put a table in front of your 10 by 10 booth and expect to be outstanding.   Yes, it can be expensive to have displays but it is definitely worth it.  Pictures will do wonders.  Purchase a digital frame and put your farm photos on there.  Use a print shop to make up signs. They should only cost $5 to $10.  At Target you can print a beautiful 8 x 10 picture for $3.89 and put it in a frame.  Be more creative than just a table and a tablecloth.

Offer Cards - Customers need to be able to take away information - like your website, phone number or product information.  Vista Print offers 500 cards for $10.00.  Always have them handy.

Listen to your customers -  It is amazing some of the things you will learn about that can be off topic - how their in-laws are coming for dinner, their daughter is pregnant, that their car is broken down.  But everyone is important in learning things about them as well as yourself.  Enjoy the moment of being educated. Many people have great ideas of what they are looking for.  We have created new products because people have commented that they were looking for this or that.  Listen closely. 

As much as you can, enjoy yourself.  You have invested time and money into being at the trade show and/or market.   Make the most of it for the few hours you are there.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Understanding Yarn Weights

Understanding Yarn Weights

There are a few types of yarn descriptions in use today:
·        North American or The Standard Yarn Weight System
·        Tex
·        Metric or English Worsted
North American yarn descriptions are used the most and though they are approximate and less precise than the other two systems, they tend to be more comfortable to use for many involved in the wool crafts.

The numbers will vary somewhat depending on the type of fiber used to make the yarn. The yarn itself may be 2 or more strands also called plies.
The photos below show what we mean by "types" of fibers used. The heavier the fiber the heavier the yarn and it may NOT look to your eye to be a certain weight, but will calculate to the number of yards per pound.

The Standard Yarn Weight System
Categories of yarn, wraps per inch or WPI, gauge ranges, and recommended needle and hook sizes will give you general starting place.

Remember: Many manufacturers have their own standard weights of yarn.
Please note: that a gauge range is difficult to determine, and following the gauge stated in your pattern is the best way to insure success. For instance- One knitter almost always goes down 2 needle sizes from the suggested in the pattern. She is a loose knitter and knows 2 sizes smaller is a good starting point. Learning to gauge saves time and head aches.

A Side note: Steel crochet hooks are sized differently from regular crochet hooks—the higher the number, the smaller the hook, which is the reverse of regular hook sizes.

Chunky Is heavier than Bulky, Can be roving
Knitting = 6–11 stitches per 4 inches on an 8 mm or 11 US needle or larger
Crochet = 5 -9 stitches per inch on an 9 mm or M13 US needle or larger

Bulky Weight Less than 8 wraps per inch - 400 to 700 yards per pound
Knitting = 12- 15 stitches per 4 inches on an 5.5 - 8 mm or 9 - 11 US needle
Crochet = 8-11 stitches per inch on an 6.5— 9 mm or K–10 1/2 to M–13 US needle

Aran Weight 6 to 10 wraps per inch - 700 to 1000 yards per pound
Knitting = 16-20 stitches per 4 inches on an 4.5 - 5.5 mm or 7- 9 US needle
Crochet = 11 - 14 stitches per inch on an 5.5 - 6.5 mm or I–9 to K–10 1/2 US needle

Worsted Weight: 10 to 12 wraps per inch - 900 to 1100 yards per pound;
Knitting = 16-20 stitches per 4 inches on an 4.5 - 5.5 mm or 7 - 9 US needle
Crochet = 12 -17 stitches per inch on an 5.5 - 6.5 mm or I–9 to K–10 1/2 US needle

Double Knitting (DK): 12 to 18 wraps per inch - 1000 to 1400 yards per pound;
Knitting = 21 -24 stitches per 4 inches on an 3.75 - 4.5 mm or 5- 7 US needle
Crochet = 11 - 14 stitches per inch on an 4.5- 5.5 mm or 7 to I–9 US needle

Sport Weight: 18 to 24 wraps per inch - 1300 to 1800 yards per pound
Knitting = 23 -26 stitches per 4 inches on an 3.25 - 3.75 mm or 3 - 5 US needle
Crochet = 16 - 20 stitches per inch on an 3.5 - 4.5 mm or E4 - 7 US needle

Fingering:24 to 30 wraps per inch - 1800 to 2400 yards per pound
Knitting = 27 -32 stitches per 4 inches on an 2.25 - 3.25 mm or 1 -3 US needle
Crochet = 21 - 32 stitches per inch on an 2.25 - 3.5 mm or B1- E4 US needle

Baby:30 to 36 wraps per inch - 2400 to 3000 yards per pound;

Lace Weight:36 to 40 wraps per inch - 3000 to 6000 yards per pound
Lace weight yarns are most often knitted or crocheted on larger needles/ hooks to create the lacy patterns.

Cobweb:40 or more wraps per inch - 6000 or more yards per pound; and

Zephyr weight yarn is finer than Cobweb
You will find spinning weights are a bit different due to the many weights

Wraps Per Inch
What is it and how do you come up with a number?
  • Get yourself a ruler, or buy a WPI measure if you want
  • Take your yarn and wrap the yarn around ruler for 2 inches
  • DO NOT wrap too tightly or too loosely- just a nice even wrap
  • Slide the yarn strands so they are touching- not overlapping
  • Count the number of wraps
  • Divide that number by 2
  • This is your wraps per inch!
Worsted Weight Yarn
Worsted wool is nothing to do with worsted weight yarn. Worsted wool is wool which is carded and then combed so that all the fibers are aligned in a parallel manner. Woolen measure or also called Yorkshire wool is carded only, and then spun to create a loftier yarn. Pencil roving that so many hand spinners use and some knitters with the "cakes" are actually a woolen processed "pre-yarn". Worsted wool is usually very fine and used for suits and fine fabric, many weavers use a worsted yarn. Hand knitting yarn is usually a woolen type yarn or possibly a semi worsted yarn.Occasionally, manufacturers will specify "worsted" or "woolen" which means the method in which the fiber was spun, not the weight of the yarn. Most do not!

Thank you to Spinderella’s Fiber Mill for the above information

Friday, November 9, 2012

Preparing your Fleece - From Skin to Skein

The most successful alpaca breeders are those who have developed a formal marketing program for their livestock.  When it comes to fiber produce by their livestock each year, however, few breeders have any type of marketing program. The function of the alpaca is the fiber, and most bypass this crucial aspect of the alpaca.  Some send part or their entire annual clip to AFCNA to support the national cooperative, which, of course, a very important use.  However, there are many ways for a farm to profit directly from its fleece production that most breeders seem to ignore.  Income from fiber sales could contribute significantly to a farm’s profitability.  You work hard to improve the fiber produced by your alpacas; it’s time to take advantage of what that offers to your farm in terms of income and sustainability.

First, you need to create a good product. 


Know your product.  Not alpacas are as soft as cashmere…some are Brillo Pads! 

Have your fleece tested.  You need to know the representative micron value of each fleece, the uniformity and comfort value.  This will tell you the most suitable end use for your fleece.  Yocom-McColl has an excellent, standardized testing method. If you obtained an OFDA report, you can use the annual growth chart to check for stress points – areas along a fiber’s length where stress may have caused a weak point that could result in breakage during processing.

A very fine (low micron) fleece with good uniformity and a high comfort value can be used for products designed to be worn close to the skin, such as sweaters or lingerie.  A moderately fine fleece may be best suited for products such as hats, gloves, or mittens, which will be worn on the head or hands where the skin is less sensitive.  It may also be blended with coarser fleece to add a degree of luxury to sock yarn without sacrificing the durability of the coarser fleece.

High micron (strong or adult) fleeces in the low to mid-30’s micron ranges are suitable for socks or other garments that will receive heavy wear and thus require greater tensile strength for durability.  Very high micron (coarse) fleeces can be used for blankets or felting and needle craft projects such as rug yarn.  Regardless of micron, all clean alpaca fiber is usable, so take the time to gather and market those seconds and thirds.  As long as fiber is clean and unstained, and of spinnable or feltable length, it is a valuable commodity that can add to the bottom line of your farm enterprise.


Pasture Management.  The first step to producing marketable fleeces is to maintain your pasture and barn facilities so that the alpaca are not exposed to excessive vegetable matter.  Setting up feeding stations to prevent waste hay from falling onto the backs or embedding itself in the neck fiber of your animals will help significantly.  Alpacas love to burrow deep inside their hay to find the choicest morsels.  If you can keep their heads above the hay mass, it will force them to eat what is available at the top, thus saving hay and keeping their neck fiber free of waste.  Keep your pastures and yarn areas mowed so that grasses and weeds do not have a chance to set seed.  Not only will this keep your forage source growing over a longer period of time, but it will prevent alpacas from being exposed to seed heads and weeds while grazing.  Be particularly careful to eliminate burrs and other weeks that produce clinging seeds which become entangled in your alpacas’ fiber and are very difficult to remove.

Shearing to simplify skirting

Whether you do your own shearing or use a professional shearer, it helps to perform that shearing task so that fleeces are shorn in stages, with the blanket shorn and collected first, separately from the belly, brisket, legs and neck fiber.  Please each shorn section in a separate bag.  This will facilitate the skirting process, since you will have already segregated based on your areas of micron divergence.

If you hand shear, you will be able to assess each handful or “clip strip” before placing it in its appropriate container.  It’s also very easy to shake out debris and dirt as you work, thereby simplifying the skirting process.

Clean your fleeces

A clean, well skirted fleece will bring significantly more than a stained or dirty “raw” fleece.  Educate your tactile senses and employ them in conjunction with your visual sense to distinguish between prime fibers and the secondary fibers found around the edges of the blanket fleece.  Remove the coarser fibers and set them aside for sale seconds.  Unless you are skirting for a specific hand-spinning client who prefers random color shifts, you should remove any color contamination (spots or areas where color changes occur in patterned alpacas) and set those fibers aside with others of like color and quality.  Be sure to remove all dung tags.  Dirty or stained fibers can be set aside for washing and use as stuffing.  Pick or shake out and discard sand, mud clumps, seed heads, burrs, and other vegetable material.  If there are areas that are clumped with burrs, try Cowboy Magic or similar equine mane and tail products to help you to remove them. 

Once you have skirted your fleece, place it in a clear plastic bag or storage box so you can locate it quickly.  It is very helpful to write the name of the animal and grade on the bag.  If you wish, you can combine fleeces of a single color in the same container, as long as all fleeces included fall within a comparable 2-3 average micron range.  Poke holes in the bags so the fiber can breathe and release excess moisture.

Sort  Gather the seconds and odd-color bits and combine them in like groups for marketing to those seeking those specific qualities.  In small quantities, you can use Zip-Lok freezer bags to keep those items collected and clean.

Add Value  If you want to go beyond the basics, you can add value to your fiber production by having some of it processed.  Some breeders have learned to car and spin, and make their own handspun yarns for sale.  There are also many small mills available where you can have fleeces washed, cared or combed and turned into roving, batt, top, or felted sheets for sale to hand spinners, crafters and weavers. Many mills can spin, ply and dye your fiber so that it is retail-ready yarn or felt.  Obviously, the expense of processing will increase the price you must ask to recoup your investment and make a profit, but having value-added product can broaden your marketing base. 

To get money out, you must put time and some money in.  You can get out more than double what you put in if you create a quality product.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Where Does All That Baby Alpaca Fiber Come From?

When I was first getting into alpacas, I kept on seeing tags on almost every article of clothing as being "Made from Baby Alpaca".  I was amazed at how many cria there must be in the world to produce this one time supply of fleece and what did they do with all of the adult alpacas?  Well, the short answer is, any alpaca can grow Baby Alpaca fleece.

"Baby alpaca" is not used as an adjective for a young cria in the textile world, it refers to the fineness of the fleece an alpaca - even if that alpaca is10 years old.

Fiber Classification: 

Royal Alpaca - finer than 18 microns 
Super Fine / Baby Alpaca - finer than 20 microns
Fine - finer than 25 micron
Medium - under 30 micron
Strong - 30 microns and greater

Mixed Pieces - short fibers, coarser than 32 microns - used for felting 

* A micron is a measurement of length equal to one millionth of a meter and used to measure the width of a single alpaca fiber to determine its fineness / softness. Most human hair is at least 100 microns, 5 times thicker than alpaca fiber.

Hopefully this helps anyone wondering about this topic as I did years ago.

Feel free to contact us with any quesitons.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Alpaca Pneumonia

The trick about alpacas is that they are very stoic - they can look fine and then they can just go downhill quickly and die.  It can be extremely frustrating because you do not know anything is wrong until something is really wrong.

Pneumonia can be lethal to alpacas.  As soon as it is recognized, it needs to be treated immediately. Pneumonia settles in fast and may or may not cause a fever. Preemies are common in late term females and the thought is the depletion of oxygen (from the nose & lungs being affected) propels her into premature labor. Older females seem to be hit the hardest and treatment should continue on an individual basis until all signs of cough, sneeze, fever, snotty nose, is gone.

Our protocol is 3cc of Nuflor per 100lbs every other day up to 5 times. Give banamine for any who seemed uncomfortable or feverish. Banamine can cause ulcers but use it to prevent discomfort, lessening fever and going off feed.

Antibiotics for Alpacas with Pneumonia

  • Naxcel, Excenel (Ceftiofur) – commonly used to treat neonatal sepsis, upper respiratory infection, pneumonia, retained placenta and uterine infections. Naxcel can be used IV or SC. If used IV, must be given BID. With severe infections and SC usage, can also use BID. Excenel has the same parent drug as Naxcel, just a different carrier that allows it to be kept at room temperature, with a long expiration date, it should be given SC. Concentration for both is 50 mg/mL.

Dose:  1 – 2 mg/lb, SC, IV, SID to BID (0.5 – 1.0 mL/25 lbs, 2 – 4 mL/100 lbs)

  • Nuflor (Florfenicol) – commonly used to treat upper respiratory infection, pneumonia, and tooth root infections in camelids. It is a broad spectrum antibiotic that is labeled to treat respiratory infections in cattle and is given every other day (EOD). Based on preliminary information from a study done at OSU in alpacas, the best dosing regimen in alpacas is daily dosing and the IM route. Due to how the drug is metabolized (by the liver), it should not be given to young crias (less than 3 months old). Contraindicated to use with any other antibiotics. Can occasionally cause them to lose their appetite.

Dose:  9 mg/lb, IM or SC SID (1 mL/35 lbs, 3 mL/100 lbs)

  • Baytril 100 (Enrofloxacin) – commonly used to treat neonatal sepsis, upper respiratory infection, pneumonia, and uterine infections in camelids. It is labeled for treatment of respiratory disease in beef cattle. It is considered to be a “big gun” and should not used as a first choice antibiotic. In puppies (< 8 months), use of this drug is associated with cartilage damage in joints, it is unknown if the same is true for camelid crias. Use of this drug in cats has been associated with blindness with high doses and long term use; the same has been reported in a Guanaco after 26 days of therapy. Research has looked at oral absorption of this drug in camelids using double the injectable dose. There is absorption at 4.5 mg/lb, PO, SID but it is still preferred to give Baytril either SC or IV. It is considered to be a broad spectrum antibiotic, but does not work against Streptococci, Enterococci, Actinomyces, Pseudomonas bacteria or anaerobic infections.

Dose:  2.3 mg/lb, SC, IV, SID to BID (IV route) (0.6 mL/25 lbs, 2.3 mL/100 lbs)

Anti-inflammatory, Analgesics (pain management)

  • Banamine (Flunixin meglumine) – this is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug used to treat pain, inflammation and endotoxemia (toxins in the blood from bacterial infections). It does not have properties to directly cause calmness, except as what would be expected by the relief of pain. If used for long term, it may lead to ulcers in the third compartment. It should also be used with caution in dehydrated camelids as it can damage the kidneys. In dehydrated animals, use one-half dose until the animal is fully hydrated. Depending on the reason it is being used, once a day seems to clinically be adequate. If the animal becomes painful again after 12 hours, an additional dose can be given for short term use. To avoid severe side effects it is best if the animal is fully hydrated (possibly on IV fluids). It is not effective if used orally.
         Dose:  0.23 mg/lb – 0.5 mg/lb, IV, IM, SC, SID to BID (0.5 – 1 mL/100 lbs)

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Composting Alpaca Manure

Composting is an essential part of degrading manure.  Composting reduces the volume of the non-composted material by 70-80% - and all you need to do is let it "cook".  The heat involved kills viable parasites and other worms that could otherwise enter a grazing animal.  Additionally, composting allows the humus content of the manure to be returned to the soil in a way that is hygienic and boosts many soils’ nutritive levels. 

Fresh alpaca manure by itself has a low composition of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium (N-P-K).  These are the standard abbreviations seen on a bag of fertilizer.  The percent levels of these nutrients in alpaca manure is about 1,2,1, meaning on a weight basis, a nitrogen level of 1%, a potassium level of 2% and a phosphorus level of 1%.

Composting degrades the physical “beans,” rendering the compost a very rich medium, but not as high as to “burn” plants, seedlings or forages.  I use composted alpaca manure as a seed starter.
You start the compost pile with a shovel full of black dirt from the field, forest or other compost pile, mixing it in with beans and some water.  Composting is best done alternating layers of nutrients (which I like to call the “lasagna” concept). In alternating layers, we stack beans from the pasture, then waste hay, leaves (in the fall), and other leafy greens (weeds) from the vegetable garden in the summer.  It is critical not to put in kitchen waste as this will attract all kinds of wild creatures (opossums, raccoons, bear, etc).
The pile needs to be wetted down (damp sponge feel), depending on your weather patterns, heat, wind, etc.  Every month or so, you can turn the pile, pulling out the material on the bottom and adding it to the top.  Depending on the pile size, this can be done with a pitchfork or bucket loader.  Although not necessary, this turning accelerates the process. 

A compost pile will steam, like a volcano, in the winter due to the high internal heat.  This temperature reaches 150-170 degrees Fahrenheit and is quite a surprise on a nippy winter day.  Turning over the pile reveals the tremendous heat source and you can feel the heat radiating to your face.  This heat destroys the few viable seeds in alpaca manure – thus producing compost that is low in future weeds.

I do not apply compost until it has aged about a full year (four full seasons).The best time to put compost down is the rapid growing season when it will not run off with spring rains.  I put some in the wheel barrow and toss it out, then rake the result smooth with a leaf rake.  The deep dark color and marvelous organic small are a pleasant experience.

Recall that the nutritive content, by the way of measuring the percent levels of N-P-K, are low.  Why, then does the pasture or garden respond so well to composted manures?  The answer is that the organic level of soil has been increased through humus.  This humus is now laden with millions of beneficial bacteria that assist in facility uptake of soil fertility in the roots of the plant.  The bacteria that develop in compost pile are not pathogenic (harmful) to alpacas, people, dogs/cats etc., but rather are the normal and natural bacteria found in good, dark and rich fertile soils.

You can grow plants in washed sand (devoid of organic matter) with the daily application of water and some nutrients.  However, the soil has no resiliency and you must add fertilizer virtually on a daily basis.  The humus aspect of soil is the actual living aspect of the earth that allows plants to grow.

In summary, composting degrades organic matter to humus and is an excellent way to process your alpaca manure.

If you have questions, please feel free to contact us.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Alpaca Customization – How to Make Alpacas Pay Their Way

Whether you have two animals or 20, your alpacas can help pay their way.  Here is a list of ideas to help you recognize the potential of your animals and how you can capitalize on the qualities that make them so unique.  Not all of these ideas will work for everyone, but every one of them could work for someone.

We’ve tried to provide you with ideas to get your creative juices flowing, as well as suggestions on where you can get more information about certain topics.  While we make our living off of alpacas, most people will not.  That doesn’t mean they can’t help pay for their care and feeding – and in many cases a good deal more.  It won’t happen unless you make it happen! 

There are many options for using your llama and alpaca fiber no matter what quality or quantity you have.  If you want to earn some money with it, the one option you don’t have is to leave it stacked up in your barn.  Why send your fiber off for processing?  Why not sell it as it comes off the animal?  That certainly is an option, but when you have it processed, you add value to the raw fiber that brings you bigger returns when you sell the product.  Each step in the production process adds value as well as increases the dollar investment you have in the product.  Here are some guidelines to help you determine the best options for your own fiber and circumstances.

You need to know what type of fiber you have.  There are various levels of “expert opinion,” and the methods you choose may depend on your opportunities and budget.  They include histograms, fleece show contests and on-farm evaluations by a fiber judge.  Baby alpaca grade versus fine fleece. You can also get a very good evaluation of your fleeces by utilizing local fiber people and guilds, shearers, other llama and alpaca breeders, and your self-evaluation (especially if you take the time to educate yourself about fiber).  Consider organizing an “evaluation event” with other breeders or through your local organization.

Once you know the quality of each fleece, sort them into the low, medium, and high quality levels and determine to what use each category will be put.  There are uses for every level of fiber.  Here are just a few of the possibilities: yarns of all types, roving and batts for spinners and felters, kits, rugs, art, quilt batts, dog beds, fine blankets, and fashionable garments from Main Street to high end.  The possibilities are endless, but you need to determine which levels of fleeces you have and select potential uses that fit those quality levels.  Contact other livestock fiber breeders who could use your fiber in blends.  You could also create a unique product that no one else offers.

Both mini-mills and fiber pools/cooperatives are processing options.  You will need to determine which best fit your needs.  If you are new to the world of fiber processing, use the Internet to research and explore various sites. Many provide extensive information on how to prepare your fiber for processing, and you will also learn a specific fiber art vocabulary that will be helpful when working with a mill.  A simple search of alpaca and llama fiber processors will bring up more than 7,000 sites.

Arrange to visit at least one mill that is located fairly close to you.  It will help you understand how important each step in process is for a quality product.  You don’t have to become an expert, but do learn the basics of fiber processing.  You will be able to make educated decisions and create a plan for the best and most profitable use of your fiber harvest. Here are some questions to ask when visiting a mill or talking to a mill owner.

  • If they wished their customers learned one thing about fiber processing, what would that be?
  • What steps can fiber producers take before sending their fiber off for processing that would save them money?
  • How important is a good shearing job when it comes to fiber processing?
  • Will they give you feedback or contact you if they feel, based on their experience, that the quality of the fiber identified for a certain type of processing is not what it should be for that product?
  • Do they feel there is a use for all fiber?
  • What is included in each service they list?  This may already be answered in their price list.
  • What is their turnaround time?
  • Are the prices based on the weight of the fiber coming in or the weight after processing?  This may also be in the price list.
  • Ask to see samples of their work.
  • Ask for referrals – and contact the referrals.

Llama and alpaca farms are deal for agri-tourism opportunities. Field trips and farm tours provide you with an opportunity to educate as well as earn money.  You could also contact a tour operator in your area and have your farm included in the bus tour they offer.  Produce a farm brochure and place it in local chamber of commerce locations or nearby highway rest areas (check with your state tourism department for permission).

Have a retail shop on your farm to produce a shopping opportunity for those who visit. (A “shop” can vary from a separate building to a room in your house to a corner of your front porch.)  Include not only your fiber and fiber related products, but also other commodities your raise on your farm – pumpkins, squash, berries, apples, herbs – manure! – and the like.  Create your own tour by getting together with others and producing a joint brochure that describes each of the stops.  All stops could be llama and alpaca farms – or fiber related in some way – or you might create a tour with three or four very different kinds of operation s (cheese factory, apple orchard, antique store, etc.).

Bed and breakfasts are another business activity that can fit will with camelid farms, especially if you are within a reasonable driving distance of major metropolitan area.  Regulations vary from state to state but are usually much less strict than those for motels and hotels.  Visit with B&B’s about the pros and cons of such a business to see if it fits with your lifestyle and see what start-up and promotional help is available from state or provincial agencies.

Provide services form other camelid owners (or potential owners). Shearing and nail trimming can be a good business.  Rent your excess pastures or rent out your animals to trim the grass at someone else’s place and fee them at no cost at the same time.  Boarding the animals you sell is another options, especially if you live near a major metropolitan area; board llamas and alpaca for those who want to own them but don’t have the acreage to keep them.  Maybe you’re one of the business-oriented fiber people who could make a go of it by opening a mini-mill.

Many states have special agri-tourism programs that can provide you with help-and sometimes even grants.  Check with the agriculture, tourism, and economic development agencies in your state.  Your local County Extension Office or Farm Bureau often has information on these programs and can help point the way to the agency that best fits your needs. A number of states also offer programs to promote made in their state items.  See if your products could be a part of their promotional packages.
Public Relations
While you don’t earn money directly from community service activities, they can get you the kind of exposure that will come back to you in farm visits and product and animals sales.  These activities can include packing trash out of ditches on cleanup days or assisting national parks and forest in their cleanup efforts, being part of fundraising walkathons or ringing bells for the Salvation Army, collecting items for the local food pantry or visiting local schools and nursing homes.  We attend a local farmers market in the park every Tuesday during the summer as a petting zoo and general feel-good event.  The sales come back to us during the holiday season when they actually want to buy a warm hat.  The opportunities are endless to get you and your animals involved in local community projects.

You can also earn money by performing public relations activities for many types of businesses and individuals.  Business grand openings and anniversary celebrations generate much more excitement when llamas or alpacas are involved.  We bring our alpacas to the college orientation and parents usually buy products for their kids.

Hold an annual farm open house where you set up education exhibits, displays and demonstrations, and offer hands-on opportunities with your animals.  Enlist the help of your friends.  Spring and fall are great times for such an event, but you might also consider scheduling an open house to coincide with a local festival or other such activity.  Another possibility is to work with other llama and alpaca farms in your area to jointly advertise an “open house tour” of all your farms on the same day.  Offer your products and animals for sale in eye-catching displays.

Markets and Marketing
You can have a product – be it fiber, animals, or services – but if no one know about it, they won’t be beating a path to your door.

Tap into the current “go green” and “buy local” marketing campaigns.  From their fiber to their pellets, llamas and alpacas are a perfect fit for the “green” market, and many promotional materials and programs already are available.  Local markets save on transportation costs and also have that “homegrown” touch.  Check your farmers’ markets and spots where you as a “fiber farmer” can sell your fiber and manure and advertise our services.  Take your animals along.  In addition, take your animals and products to local festivals and craft fairs.

Get involved with your local youth, from agriculture days at elementary schools to working with older youth in FFA and 4-H.  Teach classes about both the animals and their fiber. Join local guilds, chamber of commerce and other such groups and associations.

Offer to provide a program at one of their meetings.  Get your fiber into a local yarn shop, and offer to teach a fiber class there.  Bring the animals one day for a special promotion.  Donate your products (a bask of yarn, a gift certificate, socks) to silent auctions and other fundraisers.

Don’t be too lazy or afraid to do some self promotion.  Place ads in newspapers, newsletters, and magazines.  Learn how to write press releases and when to use them to generate publicity for your farm or event.  Submit a special article to a local paper or publication.  If you don’t feel confident as a writer, submit the idea for a story and offer to work with one of the writers.  Most importantly, get out in public with your animals!  PEOPLE LOVE TO SEE THE ALPACAS!  Head to a craft fair, hike with your animals in the local park or state park.  Be creative – just get your animals out there.

Good Business Practices

When selling your alpacas, the first thing you need to do is find out the buyer’s goals.  When do they want them?  What do they plan to do with them? Then you can help provide buyers with the information they need to make good decisions about the animals.  Owning an animal that can live up to 20 years is a big commitment.  Help them plan not only for proper care, handling and nutrition, but also to consider estate planning for their animals – if they new owners die or become seriously ill, what will happen to their animals?  This is the time, too, to talk about retirement planning and how to start downsizing well before totally retiring form raising these animals.

Sellers need to mentor buyers do active follow-up with them.  Don’t wait for them to come back to you with questions because some of them may be hesitant.  Be proactive in reaching out to them.  Offer to help give shots or trim toenails a time or two so they can learn by watching and asking questions.  Give buyers a membership application to your local camelid organization, or purchase a membership for them.  At the same time, provide your camelid organization with the names of new buyers so they can issue a personal invitation to join the group.

Provide buyers with potential end uses for alpacas so they can determine possible income generators that fit their lifestyle and interests.  Just because it doesn’t interest you or fit your needs doesn’t mean it might not be perfect fit for potential buyers of your animals. Don’t limit your market by focusing only on your own interests – learn as much as you can about how your animals can be used to that you can sell interested clients on those may options.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Alpaca Emac - A Lethal Parasite

Eimeria Macusaniensis ( commonly called Emac ) is a type of coccidia seen only in alpacas. There are four types of coccidia seen in alpacas. Emac is rarely seen or identified and even in research very few cases are ever identified. Coccidia as a whole is a necessary part of life in any species, and exposure helps build tolerance and potential immunity.  Without this the animal will not survive, as coccidia is everywhere and so if an animal is never exposed to coccidia, they will have no immunity to fight it, because it is impossible that any animal will not be exposed to coccidia at any stage of life.  For treatment, if there are less than 100 eggs on a slide, it does not need to be treated with Panacure (SafeGuard). However, Emac, which is type of coccidian, can be lethal and must be treated if you see just one egg.
The normal cycle of coccidia is that in times of stress, such as transport, lactating females, weaning or a male just maturing, the body will throw out more oocysts in their feces. Once the oocycsts hit air, it takes 48 hours for the oocycst’s to sporulate and reproduce. Prior to the 48 hrs, it is not contagious. The only form of transmission is from contact with the sporulated species. Coccidia can be identified when performing random worm tests, however for the most accurate and likely identification, the sample must be prepared differently than normal screening tests.  It must be tested in a sugar floatation method.  It is essential to identify the type of Coccidia.  Eimeria Macusaniensis (EM) compared to the normal coccidia normal is about 30 millimeters in width where the EM is 100 millimeter in length, and is dark and ugly, and also has four cells inside it). They also have thick oocyst walls (approximately 8-12 μm thick) and an obvious micropylar cap. Eimeria macusaniensis is considered by some to be highly pathogenic in alpacas. This coccidian may have the potential to cause death and disease in both young and adult camelids.
Animals are most susceptible to have bouts of coccidian in times of stress. Oftentimes an infected alpaca with any parasite will have loose stool, not pelletized feces.  They also begin to loose weight and can become lethargic.  The difficult part of finding Emac in the system is that just because you did not find an egg; it doesn’t mean it isn’t there.  Eggs may slough the day before your sample, or the day after and is not consistent or predictable.  For example, during an Australian research test, 20 samples were taking on a set of animals over 3 days.  After taking 20 samples on each alpaca, they found some samples without oocysts on the first day, the next day there may be 5, and the next day none.
Corid and Albon have variable effects on EMac and are not as consistent as Ponazuril in successful treatment. EMac can cyst in the intestinal tract and cause chronic protein loss, weight loss and lethargy.  Rarely is diarrhea seen as with the other coccidian. Because the effects of Ponazuril on the developing fetus is unknown, it is recommended that females be at least 90 days out on their pregnancies and then treat THE ENTIRE GROUP for 3 days with Ponazuril and retest in 2 weeks.

We have heard Baycox has great success as well.  Dose rate is 20mg/Kg. ( .18 x body weight = cc) Two regimens, 10 days apart, oral.  The kicker is that it is really expensive - about $650 for a 1000 ml bottle.
If you have any questions, contact us.