If you are investing in alpacas, you need to know what to select for. You will be looking for the alpacas that will add the best qualities to your herd, whether as studs or as breeding females. Here are some points worth considering:
If the alpaca looks healthy and well-cared for that’s a good start. But also ask for the registration of the animal and for information on its parents, siblings, offspring and pedigree.
Training and Temperament
Alpacas are usually good-natured. Personal contact with the animal before you buy makes sure you don’t end up with the exception to the rule. If it’s halter-trained, try to put a halter on and lead it yourself.
Size, shape and proportion are important to alpacas. Poor bone or skeletal conformation can make the alpaca subject to mobility problems. Poor bite can make it difficult for the animal to eat. Bad genital conformation can affect fertility.
Viewed from the front or back, alpacas should have straight legs, not too close together.
The animal should be in correct proportion with a straight back line and good bone structure. Ideally, the bottom teeth should meet the upper palate evenly.
Multi-colored animals are charming and attractive. But if you are growing a breeding herd for fiber production, white or solid-colored animals might be preferable. White fleeces can be dyed any color whereas colored fleeces have their own natural beauty.
Though fiber tests are a valuable indicator of the quality of an animals fleece, there is no substitute for the hands-on test: What does the fleece look like? Is it soft and silky to the touch, or too harsh to wear next to the skin? Is the fleece consistently dense and thick all over? What is the crimp and luster like? (Crimp is the slight wave (with high or low frequency) in each fiber, causing fibers to bundle. It helps holding the fibers together thus allowing it to be processed into a finer yarn.) Is the skin in good condition too?
As animals age their fleece will become coarser. The first ‘baby’ fleece will be the best, but the longer the animal retains a good fleece the better.
Diet and nutrition are a major contributory factor to the fineness and density of an alpaca’s fleece. Nutrition levels affect results and underfed animals (thereby compromising animal health and reproduction) will produce a lower micron (finer) fleece than those on a properly balanced diet, whereas overfed animals will produce a higher micron (coarser) fleece.
Drastic changes of diet or high levels of stress will directly affect the quality of the fiber the animal produces at that time.
Fiber density does make the difference. Together with staple length and fleece quality fiber density determines the return you get on your fleeces – the more good quality fleece, the better the return!
Fiber Test Statistics
These statistics give figures for the Average Fiber Diameter (AFD), Coefficient of Variation (CV), Standard Deviation (SD), and the percentage of fibers above 30 micron (%>30), sometimes also called comfort factor (%), over a number of test dates.
It is important not only to look at the test results but to take the age of the animal at each test date into consideration as well. You should not judge an animal on its fiber test results alone. If you also handle the animal and look at the fleece hands-on, you will find it easier to understand its strengths and weaknesses.
Average Fiber Diameter (AFD) – The average fiber diameter of fibers submitted in a sample.
The result is given in microns (1 micron = 1/10.000th mm).
A low micron count indicates the fineness of the blanket area of the fleece.
Standard Deviation (SD) – Indicates the amount of variation from the AFD in the fibers tested.
A low SD is desirable to show uniformity in the tested fibers.
Coefficient of Variation (CV) – Indicates the relationship between the SD and the AFD:
(SD / AFD x 100 = CV%).
A low CV percentage is desirable.
Percentages of fibers above 30 micron (%>30) – Indicates the number of fibers above 30 micron.
Fibers exceeding 30 microns are considered coarse and will have the ‘Prickle factor’.
A low >30% is desirable to indicate uniformity of the finer fibers.
Comfort Factor (CF%) – A high CF is desirable to indicate uniformity of the finer fibers.