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What's Next for Alpaca Farmers?
Author: Sue Evon
Sleeping Monk Farm has been in the Alpaca Breeding Business since
1998. We have developed a very successful breeding program and have
had many wins in the Show Ring, often competing against much larger
farms. We are very pleased with what we have accomplished so far and
we could very easily continue with pursuing our goal of breeding the
perfect alpaca. However, with the change in the economy we believe it
is time to diversify. All avenues of potential income from our alpacas
need to be explored in order for our business to continue to be
successful. Perhaps you find your farm in a similar position and want to
consider some of the following options.
Develop your fiber quality/ fiber herd with the same enthusiasm and
diligence that you have put into developing a show string. Some fiber
may not have the crimpy character expected in the show ring, but the
fineness, the staple length and the density can be exceptional! The
fleece that you produce on all of your alpacas needs to be given the
same attention to detail that you give to breeding the alpacas for your
next show string. Look at the Micron Count (MC), the % of Standard
Deviation (SD), the % of the Coefficient of Variation (CV) and the
weight of the fiber produced by each of your alpacas and breed to
improve it in the same way that you would seek to improve the
phenotype of your show string. Don’t necessarily think in terms of “the
complete package”; think in terms of what does the fiber need. Fiber
is the easiest of the alpaca characteristics to improve upon. Look to
produce alpacas with lingering fineness so that the fiber that you
harvest will have value for many years of the alpaca’s life. The alpacas
that produce fiber with a low MC, SD and CV, along with lingering
fineness are the alpacas that will ultimately be part of a distinguished
national fiber herd. They deserve as much respect and attention as any
Color Champion. They deserve equal recognition for what they bring to
the real world; the world of fiber and product production. Your fiber
herd may not have the fuzzy, preferred head-type of the show ring
with the short muzzle and the eyes that cannot be seen, but their
fiber is to die for. The proportions of their bodies may not be as
correct as the Color Champion, but their fleece is to die for. The
colors within the fiber may not be consistent, but the feel and look of
the fleece is to die for.
You don’t need to have a lot of alpacas to develop a successful fiber
business for your farm. Your success is not dependent upon the
subjective opinion of judges in the show ring and you are not in
competition with a farm that has hundreds of alpacas to choose its
show string from. Your success is dependent upon the MC, the SD and
the CV of each of the fleeces you produce. Your continued success with
each of your alpacas will be enhanced by lingering fineness; the longer
each alpaca in your herd has lingering fineness the longer the alpaca will
have an annual fiber yield that will work for you financially. Each fleece
you produce is an independent achievement for you. Create your
success one fleece at a time and promote your fleeces with advertising
Have your farm develop its own cottage niche within the fiber industry.
Perhaps you will do this by producing fleeces of rare natural colors.
These are the fleeces loved by the hand spinners and the fiber artists.
These are the fleeces that are unique and produce unique products.
What brings value to anything? - something that is exceptionally rare
and of high quality. Develop and advertise your fiber herd and the
fleeces they produce with the same hard work and enthusiasm that you
have put into your show string and you will be rewarded for your
efforts. The hand spinners and the fiber artists will seek out your
fleeces year after year once they have been impressed by the quality
of your fiber. By adding unique colors to your list of ingredients for
elite fleeces, you have insured your continued success. Each year you
are not sure of the quality of a cria for the show ring, but you can be
assured of the color and quality of the fleece any given alpaca is
producing if you work at doing so. Do yourself a favor, step-up to the
plate and develop your fleeces so that each fleece is to die for.
In addition to producing exceptional raw fleeces, you can send your
fleeces out to a fiber mill to have each fleece individually prepared into
roving or yarn. If you produce high quality yarn from your fleeces, you
attract new clientele for your products. Knitters love to work with
high quality yarn and they love to know the alpaca that their
exceptional product was knit from. Often they come back to ask for
yarn from the same alpaca year after year. They put a tremendous
amount of time into making their garments; they deserve a consistently
high quality yarn with which to knit them.
Once you have developed markets for the spinner, the knitter and the
fiber artists, you are only limited by your imagination. You can have
sheets of felt made and sell them as material for people to make their
own alpaca vests or other articles of clothing from. They can then
embroider them or embellish them with dry felting. You can have batts
made for quilters. You can run classes to teach people how to do any
crafts that you are familiar with, using the alpaca materials that you
have produced from your herd. Or take classes yourself and then
teach others, providing kits or raw materials from your alpacas for the
Get on the road to developing your fiber and each alpaca will provide you
with an income. It won’t matter whether it is a male fleece or a
female fleece as long as it is an exceptional fleece. Small farms have
an advantage when it comes to developing exceptional fleeces as they
have fewer alpacas to be attentive to. Analyze each alpaca in your herd
and decide where it can work best for your farm. Will it fit best into
your show string or your fiber herd. Once you decide on each alpaca’s
best placement, make sure the alpaca works for you and the financial
success of your alpaca business.
Please don’t think that I am abandoning the show ring and the alpacas
that do well for me there. I believe that each alpaca that we own is
worthy of equal attention and if we work with each alpaca individually
and develop its best attributes correctly, we will maximize its
potential and ultimately its value. It will reward us not only with the
pride and joy of ownership, but monetarily as well.
As the Alpaca Business within the United States continues to evolve
and develop, the opportunities available to us will do so as well. Your
success in this business is only limited by your vision of what is possible.
Live your alpaca dream by expanding and developing your vision. Don’t
abandon what is working for you, add to it. The only mis-step on the
road to your future with alpacas, is the step not taken. Make your
choices by deciding what will work best for you and your alpacas and
then get on down the road!
Sue & Bob Evon are the owners of Sleeping Monk Farm Alpacas
in New Ipswich, NH. They welcome your comments and questions.
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