Because selective breeding and recording has only been effective for a few generations, modern day alpacas show a wide variety of fleece types and characteristics. Because of this variation, great care is required at all stages of the fleece handling chain, especially at shearing and pre -classing, to maximise the potential of this unique fibre.
Each processor has slightly different specifications, even when making similar products. However every processor has two fundamental requirements: consistent, commercially viable quantities, and that the fibre they buy is even and accurate for micron and staple length to suit their requirements.
There are some important considerations for all alpaca owners in relation to fleece quality and value. Currently even the very best alpaca has some disadvantages compared to other natural fibres that need to be considered.
Guard Hair, which grows as coarser primary fibre, can be up to 20-30 microns broader than the fleece average. Guard hairs are fully medulated (hollow) fibres that are straight, have very poor dyeing properties and cause the ‘prickle’ factor in finished garments. These fibres are particularly noticeable on the apron and belly area on most animals, but can also be a problem across the whole fleece.
The wide variation of micron over the whole saddle area on nearly all alpacas results in most fleeces during classing having to be separated into at least two main fleece lines, because the finest part of the saddle – usually towards the middle – can be up to 10 microns finer than the fibre around the edges.
Lack of consistency in colour throughout some alpaca fleeces can be a major factor in limiting its end use. High quality/high value end users of fibre will not accept any colour contamination especially important for white and black fleece lines.
These factors, along with the limited quantities available, present considerable challenges in providing consistent, commercially viable fleece lines – and the benefits gained from careful initial handling during and after shearing on the end product cannot be over-emphasised. There has been a noticeable improvement in the overall quality of alpaca fibre in recent years, and this, along with demand from processors and consumers for a better quality product has resulted in some fleece line specifications changing and becoming tighter.
Each of the 14 Australian Alpaca Association regions has appointed a Fleece Liaison Officer (FLO). Their role is to pass on information from AAFL to the breeders in their region and to assist with collection and transport information. A contact list of the FLOs is available on the AAFL website or by contacting the AAFL Office.
To minimise shipping costs and to provide assistance to less experienced growers, each AAA region also has designated fleece collection points. Fleece can be dropped off at a collection point (after prior arrangements) to be combined into pressed bales with fleece from other growers. Your regional FLO can assist with enquiries regarding sorting, packaging and transport, and will provide details of your nearest collection point. He/she can also allot an AAFL Grower Number if fleece is being consigned for the first time.
Each whole clip must contain a completed consignment form for identification. The form is available from the AAFL website under ‘Growers’ or by contacting your Region FLO. Especially for bales containing fleece from more than one grower, it’s very important that every individual fleece bag has the correct Grower Number marked on it – usually by felt marker – clearly visible on the outside.
Provided grower identification is shown there is no requirement for an individual fleece bag identification slip. AAFL or your FLO can issue a new Grower Number if you don’t have one.
* If you do not have an ABN you must fill out a ‘Statement by Supplier’ form, available from the ATO or download from the AAFL Website or ATO website – form number 3346. Failure to do so will result in 46.5% withholding tax being deducted from your payment.
*If you are registered for GST please ensure that your ABN is supplied on the grower consignment form.
Most interstate and local transport companies charge by the bale or pallet space. Accordingly it costs the same amount for a 50kg bale or butt as it would if the bale was 150kg. So to reduce transport costs it is preferable for growers to press as much weight into each wool pack as practically possible for their individual situation. (At present, AAFL is offering to pay inter-State transport costs by approved carriers for pressed bales weighing above 110 kg.)
Initiatives such as regional or group pressing days can significantly reduce transport costs for growers with small quantities. Regional Fleece Liaison Officers can usually advise about this, as well as providing information on transport options.
Pre-classing by growers at shearing time is very important. Both the quality of the end products and also the return received for the fibre is greatly affected by the standard of preparation at shearing and fleece handling afterward. Pre-classing (skirting fleeces) greatly reduces the possibility of fleeces being downgraded due to contamination from coarse/hairy skirtings. The overall aim is to reduce the presence of guard hair as much as possible, and to try to get the main fleece portion as even in quality as possible. For fleece sent to AAFL this is best done by separating (‘skirting’) the lower quality ‘pieces’ directly during shearing, then placing the pieces in a separate smaller bag or bags with the separately bagged neck fleece inside the main fleece bag. NO OTHER PRE-CLASSING ACTION IS NEEDED FOR FLEECE SENT TO AAFL.
To allot an overall fleece value the AAFL classer will decide which of four grades each submitted fleece fits into, based on the likely yields of at least five different grades of fibre including mixed grade clean pieces that will be separated during later detailed classing. These likely final yields have been determined from long experience. The four general grades used for Australian grower fleece valuation are:
|X FINE||–||About two thirds of the fibre being less than 22 micron and very soft handle.|
|FINE||–||About half of the fibre being less than 22 micron.|
|MEDIUM||–||About half of the fibre being less than 25.5 micron.|
|ADULT||–||About two thirds of the fibre being between 25.5 and 32 micron.|
To maximise fleece value growers should ensure that during shearing hairy and contaminated fleece, especially from the lower legs, belly and brisket/chest is quickly removed and discarded as rubbish. The shorter neck fleece should be kept separate from the main fleece, as should all clean mixed pieces/skirtings.
Ensuring that the quality of shorn fleece is not lowered by allowing it to come into contact with other coloured fibres, low quality hairy fibres or other contaminants such as vegetable matter, etc. is very important. Both the quality of the end products and also the price received for the fibre is greatly affected by the standard of preparation at shearing and fleece handling afterward. Taking care during shearing to ensure that hairy pieces, especially from the lower legs, belly, chest and head are separated from the prime fleece will greatly reduce the possibility of fleeces being downgraded due to contamination from coarse/hairy skirtings.
Remember that the major fault with alpaca fibre currently is the presence of guard hair, so it’s critical to reduce this presence at all stages. So if fleeces are heavily contaminated before classing much of what otherwise may be of higher value can be heavily downgraded.
Wherever possible, novice growers should try to get experience of shearing at another property. Experienced growers will usually appreciate the offer of assistance, and this will quickly show how straightforward the following advice is in practice. Most important is thinking about and preparing the simple equipment needed – and discussing individual requirements with the shearer by telephone well in advance of shearing.
The main alpaca contamination problems faced in the alpaca industry are:
Coloured fibres in fleeces – eg: black/brown in white and white in black
Contamination from packaging – Fleeces should only be shipped in robust plastic bags or separated by newspaper in a wool pack. Chaff/poly bags should never be used as they break down rapidly. .And if you are using supermarket bags for necks and pieces/skirtings please ensure they are free from any small PVC pieces.
Contamination by quantities of different length fibres, such as second shearing cuts and shorter fleece from neck and legs, etc.
Foreign Objects – This can range from socks to pegs and even reading glasses and false nails!
Baling Twine – baling twine is impossible to remove once mixed with fibre ; a particular problem is the short cut twine ends where the bales are tied.
Moths –Moth infested fibre must be thrown out to prevent infestation of otherwise clean fibre.
Rodents – Due to quarantine requirements please do NOT send in fleece that is contaminated by rodents. DO NOT TIE ANY BAGS, but simply fold ends in to avoid unpacking difficulty. (Pressed fleece bags will not spill.)
Mid-side fleece sampling is a very useful tool for monitoring individual animals over successive years, provided the sample is taken from the exact same spot each year. But relying on this measurement is not effective for fibre classing, for two reasons:
Because mid–side sampling is a test from one point on the animal only, it does not give an accurate indication of the micron variation over the entire fleece area, or of any colour variation or coloured fibre contamination that may be present. (Note also that each test result has a certain range of accuracy tolerance associated with it depending on the sampling and testing.
* White fleeces grown in red soil areas will be graded as coloured, due to the scouring process often being unable to remove the red tipping.
* Very light fawn fleece that appears nearly white will normally be valued as white.
With many Australian alpaca growers owning very few animals, it is understandable that the use of a shearing shed may not be possible or practical. However because these growers make up a large percentage of national annual fleece production they are very important to the supply of fleece to AAFL. So owners with very small numbers of animals are advised to:
Contact your nearest Fleece Liaison Officer (FLO) or AAFL for fleece collection point details and any further information you may need.
Assemble sufficient plastic bags for the number of alpacas to be shorn. Strong garbage bags are suitable, but NO TIES please. Contact your FLO if in doubt.
Ensure that your alpacas are kept in a clean paddock before shearing.
If fleeces contain loose vegetable matter remove as much as possible in a minute or two. Some types of vegetable fault cannot be removed by hand i.e. burr and barley grass and those parts of the fleece should be removed to the rubbish bin.
During the shearing of each alpaca, collect and place in a rubbish bag bag all lower legs, bellies and aprons as soon as they are shorn, together with any fleece heavily contaminated with vegetable matter/clover burr, etc. This is to prevent contamination of good neck and saddle fibre.
Place each neck in a supermarket bag as it is shorn.
The minimum requirement is to keep the main fleece free from contamination as it is being shorn, removing any obviously hairy pieces at that time. Then simply fold the fleece edge to edge then roll it up and place each fleece directly into its bag. Clean skirtings and any non-hairy fleece pieces separated during shearing should be placed in smaller bags with the neck bag in the top of the main fleece bag.
Remove any clumps of vegetable matter or “birds nest”, usually found between the shoulders. Heavily contaminated pieces should be discarded as rubbish.
Fold the fleece edge to edge (down the back line) with the cut side up.
Roll up the folded fleece lengthways and place in plastic bag.
Always bag each fleece separately – or for large clips separate each fleece in pressed bales with newspaper. Place neck bag and any clean skirting bags in with the appropriate fleece.
Correctly label each bag in felt pen with your Grower Number. Contact AAFL or your FLO if you don’t have a Grower Number. (Keep any other markings you may wish to make smaller and separately lower on the bag to avoid confusing the classers, as they will only record the Grower Number.)
Forward your clip to the collection point as soon as practicable. Avoid storing fleeces for prolonged periods to reduce the risk of infestation by vermin, moths, etc.
Erect a skirting table (if desired); slatted wood or steel mesh is best as it allows dirt and second cuts to fall through.
Prepare enough PVC/garbage bags for each fleece. Do not use recycled garbage bags or fragile white ‘bin liner’ bags that soon disintegrate and ruin the fleece.
Prepare 1 bag for each Neck, (supermarket bag or similar). Mark each with ‘N’.
Prepare enough supermarket bags for clean Hairy Pieces to accompany each fleece.
Prepare bags or bins for Rubbish, (all colours).
Arrange enough PVC/garbage bags for the fleeces, ensuring each is marked with Grower Number. Contact AAFL or FLO if unsure of Grower Number (always on each Clip Report.)
Remove all feedbags, chaff bags, garbage bags, bailing twine, wire or wire ties, string, staples or other possible contaminates from the shearing area.
Assemble sufficient PVC garbage/plastic bags for the number of colours to be shorn, wool packs (new or second hand – available from AAFL), bale fasteners, newspaper, supermarket bags and felt-tipped marker pens.
Do not feed alpacas chaff or loose feed within 24 hours of shearing.
Keep animals awaiting shearing in a cleaned paddock or yard.
If fleeces contain loose vegetable matter, using a piece of 1.5 inch poly pipe or palm brush, brush fleece downwards to remove dirt and loose particles from fleece (20-30 seconds only).
Sweep floor of shearing area – NEVER use blowers as these will only spread loose fibres causing contamination.
Alpacas should be shorn in colour order – preferably lightest to darkest and youngest to oldest.
Sweep clean shearing area between animals.
Keep lower legs, bellies and hairy aprons, head and tail away from saddle fibre during shearing – collect and place in rubbish bag as soon as they are shorn off.
Collect clean hairy pieces/skirtings into supermarket bags as the alpaca is shorn.
If weighing fleeces, it is best to do this before going onto the skirting table.
Nail/teeth trimming and injections should preferably not be done at shearing time (some shearers will do these services after prior arrangement). If this cannot be avoided, be careful to ensure no contamination of shorn fleece occurs.
Simply remove all hairy pieces, especially the lower legs, belly and apron areas to rubbish, and bag the neck and any clean pieces separately, placing these bags inside the fleece bag. So, only if it is desired to examine fleeces further before shipment or to prepare them for shows, etc: skirt fleeces before placing them in a bag (once fleeces are rolled up and bagged they are much harder to skirt.)
If skirting for fleece showing, for example, lay fleeces out on the skirting table with the cut side down and remove all coarse/hairy fibre from the edges of the saddle. Also remove any clumps of vegetable matter or “bird’s nests” – usually found between the shoulders.
Fold the fleece edge to edge to avoid contamination with any coarser edge fibre, then carefully roll before placing in fleece bag.
Each Grower’s whole consignment must be shipped in a woolpack, or for smaller amounts, in a single large bag.
Each neck bag and any pieces bags should be placed inside the fleece bag.
Multiple fleeces of the same colour can be placed in the same bag provided each is separated by newspaper and necks and pieces are also kept separated.
Only one fleece and its supermarket bags per garbage fleece bag.
Individual pieces supermarket bags do NOT need to be labelled; place ‘N’ on neck bags.
Ensure that each bag containing the main fleece is marked externally clearly with your Grower Number. (Do not now use individual bag identification slips.)
Ensure that each fleece bag is left open when placed in bale (do not knot, tie, staple, tape or wire, simply fold in the end of the bag).
Do not use bags that are torn or brittle. Never use chaff bags, woven poly bags, recycled or white bin liner bags that will soon disintegrate and ruin the fleece.
It is not necessary to include individual animal names or IAR numbers with fleeces. (If used, please place lower on each bag to avoid confusing the classers.)
Only use wool bale fasteners to close the packs.
Complete all boxes on Fleece Consignment Form, one form per whole clip.
Ensure paperwork is placed at the top of the bale or consignment bag and that your Grower Number and name is legible on the outside of the bale.
Please fill woolpacks up as much as practical to minimize the storage space needed at the AAFL warehouse.
It is most important to ensure the consignment form is completed with all details required. Please print clearly. (Copies are available on the AAFL website under ‘Growers’)
To avoid deduction of a warehousing fee, please do not send to AAFL:
Coarse hairy pieces in all colours.
Damp or wet fleece – that will rot and damage other fleece nearby.
Excessive Vegetable Matter or other contamination.
NOTE: While growers may send in short fleece below 60 mm and over-long fleece above 150 mm, if it is not possible to allot a value for these fleeces AAFL will contact the grower. The overall aim now is to try to buy all fleece types and grades; in general the policy is: “NO NCV”.
Apron – Fibre from the chest area/brisket of the alpaca.
AWTA – Australian Wool Testing Authority
Bag – Clear plastic or quality garbage bag, used to store fibre.
Bale – Wool pack that contains compressed fibre – usually weighing 110-180kg.
Butt – An un-pressed wool pack only partially filled with fibre.
Carding – A mechanical process which opens up the scoured fibre.
Classing – The preparation of fibre into consistent, saleable grades.
Clip – The result of one year’s shearing.
Co-efficient of variation (CV) – A statistical measure of the variability within a set of values – the higher the CV the more variability within the fibre sample.
Combing – A process that removes most short fibres and foreign matter, leaving the longer fibres lying parallel to each other.
Comfort Factor – The percentage of fibres finer than 30 microns.
Core Sampling – The process of taking a representative sample from a bale or group of bales to determine average micron, CV, yield and comfort factor.
Cotted – Fibre that has become partially felted or matted.
Crimp – The natural waviness of the fibre.
Fibre Diameter – The thickness of an individual fibre, measured in microns.
Good Pieces – Fibre that makes up the transition from good saddle fleece to hairy pieces.
Greasy – Describes the fibre as it is from shearing until scouring.
Guard Hair/ Kemp – Primary fibres which are generally medulated and coarser than the majority of fibres. These fibres are straight (no crimp), very coarse, harsh in handle and have very poor dyeing properties.
Hairy Pieces – Fibre that contains high levels of guard hairs (medulated fibres) – generally found around the outer edges of the shorn saddle, belly and apron areas.
Handle – The softness or feel of the fibre.
Lustre – A fibre characteristic determined by the amount of light reflected off the fibre. A very important attribute in suri fibre and important in all good alpaca fleece.
NCV – No Commercial Value.
Pre-classing – Preparation of fibre at classing time, involves skirting and separation of lower quality fibre from prime fleece.
Saddle – The area over the alpaca’s back and sides that generally produces the better quality fibre. With breeding improvement to extend higher quality fleece over more of the body, this larger proportion of fleece is sometimes called the ‘blanket’.
Scouring – The process of washing the fibre to remove dirt, grease and other impurities.
Second Cuts – Short locks of fibre, the result of shearing an area that has previously been shorn.
Skirt – To remove lower quality fibre from around the better quality saddle fibre.
Staple – Term referring to the individual lock of shorn fibre.
Style/Character – A subjectively assessed characteristic of greasy fibre related to the crimp and staple definition.
Tender – Fibre that has a weak spot somewhere along the length of the staple – when put under reasonable pressure the staple will break.
Top – A continuous strand of partially manufactured fibre that has already been through the scouring, carding and combing processes.
VegetableMatter (VM) –Term which describes plant matter found in fibre, such as seeds, sticks, burrs and chaff.
Yield -The amount of clean fibre derived from the greasy form after the scouring process.