I spent last weekend traveling to visit an alpaca farm and a fiber processing mill. This fun fiber excursion was arranged through Central Community College extended learning classes. Our contact was Sindy Fiene, the CCC coordinator at the Lexington campus.
My best friend and avid fellow knitting crafter, Wendy, and I went on this fiber excursion. It was a great opportunity for us to see, firsthand, how fiber animals are raised and what happens to the fleece or fiber once the fiber is sheared from the animal.
We left early on Friday and stayed at The House on the Hill Bed and Breakfast in Elwood. We really enjoyed sitting on the wrap-around porch and knitting in the cool evening breeze. It was great company and the B&B was beautiful! Soon, it was time for some shut-eye before our Saturday excursion.
Saturday, we woke up to a delicious breakfast, packed up the car and headed on the road. Our first stop was the Butterfield Alpaca Ranch near Nebraska’s Harlan County Reservoir. About 20 of us arrived at the ranch to begin our tour. Tasha Butterfield, owner of the alpaca ranch, gave us a brief history of her involvement in starting, operating and owning the alpaca ranch.
There are a few llamas among the alpacas. Llamas act as guards or sentries among the alpaca herd. It was interesting to see how the llamas were always looking around and on alert within the group of alpacas. While visiting among one alpaca herd, one particular llama purposely and calmly positioned himself between my friend and the rest of the alpaca herd in that particular enclosure. The llama was being a good sentry.
Alpacas are sheared once a year in the spring. The average alpaca yields approximately seven pounds of fiber. The alpaca raised on Butterfield Ranch are Hucaya and Suri breeds of alpacas.
Hucaya (pronounced wuh-kai-ya) alpaca fiber is a soft, crimpy kind of fiber that grows at right angles to the alpaca’s skin and kind of resembles a sheep’s fleece. Suri alpaca fibers have a longer staple length and a more silky appearance to the fiber.
Alpacas have a pack mentality, meaning they like to be with more than one or two alpacas. We also learned alpacas have two toes with a soft pad on the bottom of their feet. The nails need to be trimmed regularly if the animals are kept on a soft surface (such as in a pasture). Their teeth only grow along the bottom and are comparable to human fingernails, meaning the teeth also have to be regularly trimmed and filed to keep them in good working order. Alpacas can live up to 20 years. The fiber properties change as the alpaca grows older. Nutrition and diet also affect the quality of the fiber.
All too soon, it was time to say good-bye to Tasha and her alpaca ranch. Next stop, a fiber processing mill in Kansas. More on our fun fiber tour in next week’s column.