Tips to Classify and Cultivate Your Alpaca Fiber

Tips to Classify and Cultivate Your Alpaca Fiber

The most luxurious natural fiber available is Alpaca Fiber. It is superior to angora and even cashmere, for it is as soft, if not softer than cashmere, yet it will not pill and has better thermal properties. Alpaca hair is virtually hypoallergenic, as it does not contain lanolin like wool – lanolin is oily and holds in dust, mites and other microscopic allergens. The lack of lanolin also means that no chemicals or special washes are needed to prepare alpaca fleece for processing. Because of this pureness, even the most sensitive skin is not irritated by alpaca products.

Classifying by Color or Fineness

Color is the easiest thing to learn about classifying your fleece, yet there are areas where a color may seem to hover in between definitions. To start off, there are 22 colors that are recognized internationally. At this time, the majority of animals are white or faun. Grey and black are the most sought after colors, therefore easiest to sell. White is also very easy to market, because alpaca fiber takes to dyes very easily, so white is often used when dying the fleece.

A roan color is a solid base color like brown or black with white at the tips or white hairs growing amount the base color. Almost all back will have roaning in their coloring. Grey is a very popular color, and can range from very dark grey to a nearly white looking animal. Most greys will have small darker spots on them.

The other way to classify your fleece is to separate it by fineness. Fineness is the diameter of the individual hairs and is measured in microns. For comparison, a human hair is between 40-90 microns.

Alpaca fiber with a measurement of 18 or less microns is classified as Royal. Historically, this type of fiber was reserved exclusively for the Incan royalty.

Fiber with a measurement of 18 to 20 microns is classified as Baby or Superfine. This can be found mostly on alpacas of one year of age, their first cut.

The classification of Fine is given to alpaca fiber between 20 and 25 microns, and Medium for fiber between 25 and 30 microns. Both these types are easy to spin into yarn and are very soft. However over 30 microns, we then come into the category of Strong. Obviously not as fine as Fine or Medium, but nevertheless great for gloves, rugs and other rugged finished products.

The other classification is Mixed Pieces which are over 30 microns and are used for felting and decorative artistic products.


You must not groom your alpacas; brushing, pulling and even petting your alpacas too much can stretch the hair fibers. This affects the loft of the fleece, loft meaning here the ability of the hairs to return to “normal” after being stretched or squeezed, it can sometimes be referred to fluffiness, but this is less accurate. Because the scales on an alpaca hair all lay in the same direction, they do not spring back as strongly as wool might – making it more susceptible to being stretched out of shape – not springing back.

If you have enough pasture space, a great strategy is to put your alpacas on fresh grass pasture 3 weeks before shearing. This will allow any hay, twigs or other things that may be stuck in the fleece to naturally work their way out and you will have clean cuttings, ready for processing.

If you live in a humid climate, be sure your cut fleece is dry before bagging it to keep it free from mold and keep it smelling fresh for your clients. An inventive solution to this was shared by Deb Wright of Wright Choice Alpacas -on this until it is dried and ready to bag. You also have to ensure that you keep moths away from your fleece until you have time to classify it and prepare it for shipping or pickup. You could put a dryer sheet in with each bag to repel bugs.

A longer term strategy for cultivating quality fleece would be a breeding program, or buying animals bred for high quality fleece from a good breeding farm. Tracing breeding, keeping long term and detailed records, and honesty will assist a breeder to develop lines that are proven to provide quality fleece.

If a breeder realizes that the offspring of a certain alpaca are not producing quality animals, they should be pulled from the breeding stock, gelded if they are males. It will take years to make these determinations, this is why detailed record keeping and honesty in recording will pay off in the long run.

The animals that are not suitable for breeding stock can still be used for fleece production for the rest of their lives, an owner will still be able to make money from them. However if a breeding program has a goal of a certain quality of fleece, these animals should not be breeders. Even medium and strong fleece carry the wonderful traits of alpaca fiber, and there are many mills and artisans who will be glad to buy this alpaca fiber.