I took a break from my winery visits and made a stop at SunCrest Orchard Alpacas….its in the Grand Valley’s What Else to See & Do section of my book – Exploring Colorado Wineries. This is a “must stop” whether you are 5 or 95! Owners Mike and Cindy and their son, Chris are knowledgeable, friendly and welcoming. The complimentary tour starts with watching and learning about their 56 alpacas. So what’s the difference between an alpaca and a llama?? One major difference is their uses….alpacas are used for guarding sheep and llamas are used for carrying/packing. Importation of alpacas from Chile, Bolivia and Peru began in 1982 and stopped in 1997. There are approximately 175,000 alpacas in the USA versus 6.5 million sheep.
Being a docent at the Denver Zoo, I was quite fascinated with them…so here’s some facts:
- They live for 20-25 years, and their fiber (not wool/hair) produces for 12-18 years.
- They ovulate only at copulation (which I’m not getting into!!), and give birth to 1 offspring called a cria.
- They eat a limited diet – 1.5 bales (65 lbs) of grass and hay per month and drink lots of water.
- Their fiber is the quality of cashmere with the durability of wool.
So how does their fiber become a product?? I’m going to give you a general overview, but you should stop by the farm and take the tour for yourself!!! The pictures below are labeled with the step and machine name.
- Washing machine – washed for 3.5 hours at 140 degrees.
- Dryer – after washing the fiber is 90% air-dried on racks.
- Picker – this machine opens up or pulls apart the fiber.
- Blows into room – (no picture) the Picker blows it into a sealed room where it is picked up after the static has stopped.
- Separator – this machine separates the hairs and vegetation and gets rid of hair follicles.
- Carder – combs out the fiber and produces 3 types of products: rug yarn, batting for quilting and regular yarn.
- Drafter – stretches the yarn to 2.5 times its size (done twice).
- Spinner – stretches the yarn further and twists it depending on what it will be used for.
- Plyer – makes the final yarn into 2, 3 or 4 ply (synthetic yarn is usually 8, 10 or 12 ply).
- Steamer – basically blow drys the yarn without combing it to “loft” it by relaxing the hair into its natural state.
- Skein winder – winds the yarn into big skeins for final use.
So now you know everything about alpacas and the processing of their fiber!!
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