How to Make an Alpaca Fiber Male!

#AlpacaFiberMalesForSale!

Sometimes I’ll hear a comment that then triggers an idea to share with others, in hopes of spurring further thought and discussion and maybe, change in behavior. It’s isn’t a criticism, but rather a “why do we do that?” sort of thought.  Such was the case for this blog.

I was looking to put together a group of “fiber males” for a new client, and she was looking for a top selection of males, one of each of the colors.  Not having the variety that she was hoping to buy, I called on several farms in hopes that they might have a fiber male to contribute to her package.  I was surprised at my fellow alpaca farmer responses as most had either older fiber males to sell, or had none to offer (an amazing run of females?) and a few stated that they had hoped to sell their alpaca as a herdsire. 

Heavy sigh as I thought about what goes into the “MAKINGS OF A FIBER MALE!” 

I started reading through the alpaca classifieds in print and social media to see what other alpaca farmers were offering as “alpaca fiber males” for sale, and below were some of the descriptors used in advertisements.  All are in the classification listing of “Fiber Alpacas For Sale.”

Halter trained!
Seven years old!
Gelded!
Pet males for sale!
Needs forever home!
Rescue alpacas need re-homed!
Very friendly!
Very gentle!
Related genetic lines!
Did well in the show ring!
Wonderful companion animals!
Wonderful fleece!
Many colors!
Just sheared!
ARI registered!
Recent toenails trimmed!
Does not get along with other male alpacas!
Sweet, slightly shy!
Great bloodlines!
Good fiber!
Too many boys!
Great female, nonbreeder d/t fertility problems!
Great presence!
Unbelievable coverage!

If we are a fiber industry, shouldn’t we be selling our best to alpaca fiber farmers?  Why wait until they hit the “default” list to place them in the “alpaca fiber” classifieds?  Why are we hoping our males will be a Herdsire?  If a livestock model estimates 5% of it’s males to be breeding stock, why not decide early on and sell the other 95%  to make that luxury fiber into marketable textiles.  Why hold on to that 95% and continue to invest high for low return?   

If we start thinking critically about the 5% that should be the breeding stock, then it will be easier to view the other 95% as the wondrous males that are actually creating our textile industry, rather than the “those that didn’t make the cut.”

I decided to compile a list of what I believe a classified listing for fiber males should look like to the prospective buyer.  I’ve broken them into five categories for simplicity and organization. 

Date of sale—March 2018
Fiber male, intact, for sale
DOB 12/3/16
Recent shearing 6/4/17
First shearing 6/4/17

This first section is the demographics on the animals.  Perhaps you’ve already noticed that the alpaca is not AOA registered.  Most livestock industries do not register production animals.  It is an added cost and not necessary for a farmer whose business model focuses on fiber production. 

Also, notice the time of the year for this particular sale.  In other livestock, there is a time for the offspring to sell.  For example, lambs can be birthed twice a year and sold for the holidays when demand is at it’s highest.  Hogs are frequently sent to market in mid to late Fall, probably a leftover practice from when people smoked hams in outbuildings.  For alpacas, the offspring should sell as fiber alpacas as soon as weaned AND once they can start generating income for the farmer.  For example, an alpaca born in the Fall in the northern hemisphere should sell after it’s first shearing  the following Spring.  The reason behind this is as a commercial fiber famer, you would want to buy the alpaca after this shearing, since this first fleece still in cria tips would be of lesser value as a commercial fiber sale.  In other words, the alpaca farmer buying the alpaca does not want to incur the cost of shearing when he/she is not able to sell the fleece still in cria tips to the commercial fiber market.  Whereas, an alpaca born just a few months earlier, e.g., in July that is then shorn a month after it’s birth should sell to the alpaca fiber farmer before it is shorn in the Spring.   In this case, the alpaca fiber farmer buying the alpaca will be able to harvest that fleece and sell it into the commercial market for a cash sale.   Timing the sale so that the alpaca fiber farmer can almost immediately turn the fiber sale into cash with minimal cost into the production of the animal should be a selling point.

The date of birth (DOB) is imperative as fiber males cannot sell when they are older, and once we’ve harvested their best fleeces.  Our alpaca fiber industry should not be one based on alpacas that still produce good fiber.  Rather, our alpaca fiber industry needs to decide early on which alpacas are to be sold as fiber alpacas. 

Recent Shearing and First Shearing need to be listed for the obvious reasons for the buyer.  The buying farmer needs to know the date of the last harvest as a gauge of blanket weight and length.

Blanket Weight
Blanket Grade
Blanket Color
Fiber break/tenderness current fleece

Histograms, including staple lengths, can be done on every fleece that the alpaca has produced.  A simple AFD and SD is all that is needed, and it is relatively inexpensive to have done, one US source offering it at $3 per test.  A histogram is significant for the animal buyer, but remember that it only shows a measurement of one sample within the blanket (or multiple representations if it is a grid pattern).  I believe it’s critical that we promote Blanket Weight and Sort/Grade/Class which is entirely different from a Histogram.  A blanket that is sorted/graded/classes tells you how much you can get for the fleece per weight, which is the bottom line!  The Blanket Weight has to be done at the time of the Blanket Sort/Grade/Class, because each of the SGC lots has to be weighed as separate sales.  It is critical for the alpaca fiber farmer to know the consistency within the blanket as evaluated from the commercial buying side.

Color is critical in the commercial market, not only regarding actual color but also regarding consistency within the blanket.  This color uniformity is throughout the fleece blanket ONLY and does not involve, head, legs, belly or tail.  So if the alpaca has a fading fawn bonnet, but the fleece blanket is white, it sells as a white alpaca, not a light fawn.  For our AOA Registration and the AOA Show, the alpacas are registered/entered according to patterns.   These pattern designations are not of significance for the alpaca fiber farmer provided they are not in the blanket.  

 An alpaca fiber farmer does not want to buy an alpaca, keep it for “x” number of months, and then not be able to sell the fleece to the commercial market because it is tender.  Commercial machines create more pull than a person does hand spinning, and therefore if the fiber is brittle to the hand, it will break in the machine production.  Tenderness associates with the health of the animal, and the buyer should be made aware of any long-term problems that could cause ongoing fiber breaks.

Spinning Competitions
Spinning Evaluation
Spinning Sample available

As sellers of alpaca production animals, we should be educated on determining the spinning qualities.  It’s not imperative that the alpaca seller be able to spin, but it is critical that we understand what makes a fleece of good spin quality, and what we as producers can do to influence it.   There is now an AOA Spin-Off Judging as a certification.  I believe we as an industry have much to learn about commercial spin, knit and weave manufacture.  Simply having a spinning sample available, hand or machine spun, should be a minimum when selling alpacas to fiber farmers.

Physical Anomalies
Care Management
Weight
Height

Physical defects, weight, height at withers, care management all go together since for the fiber farmer, he/she wants to keep the expense per animal at a minimum without compromising care.   “Easy keepers” have an advantage, meaning the alpaca that merely looks at green grass and maintains/gains weight (as in our HUMAN WORLD!) is a better choice than the forever forager that grows a short staple length. A fiber farmer does not want to supplement with hay more than necessary, and I believe we should not be feeding grain to fiber animals.  Fiber animals should be able to maintain a healthy weight on grazing and free choice minerals and fresh, clean water.  In winter months, they will need hay, but it doesn’t need to be the higher protein that is for lactating females.  Providing a lower protein, even 1st cutting, that has a sufficient RFV, TDN and mineral composition will be adequate for these fiber alpacas.  Alpacas are meant to be kept on a slightly leaner side (except at our farm, aka Bubba Farm).

Physical anomalies are important to the alpaca fiber farmer only as they relate to working hours and materials.  As an example, a well-aligned bite is important because of the expense of dental management regarding working hours and materials and time spent doing this type of care, even if not outsourced, needs to be accounted for in labor costs.  An alpaca fiber farmer cannot afford financially or labor wise to perform dental on a significant portion of his/her herd.  Nor can an alpaca fiber farmer keep alpacas that are not conformationally correct, blind, deaf if there is an added burden of medical management or if there is fiber loss created by illnesses and stressors. 

Height, weight, care management are also important for the alpaca fiber farmer as they relate to the terminal market. 

Personality Problems

I’ve left personality problems for the end because, in reality, it is important that fiber males have a personality that is amenable to the herd dynamics.  I have culled alpacas, who have wondrous fleeces because he/she was unable to get along “well enough” with the other males and was forever causing the herd to be in high tension.  An alpaca fiber farmer cannot afford the time, energy, nor resources to deal with animal hierarchy problems that adversely affect the herd.  Being obnoxious is one thing, but causing total disruption to the herd is not tolerable.  Conversely, neither is the male that is small and the object of constant torment.  It is unfair to expect the very disadvantaged to hold his/her own within the herd dynamics.

Imagine a catalog with even a few of the above categories, composed solely of ALPACA FIBER MALES, aged eight months or so, ready to be shorn, their harvested blankets sold within two months.   It doesn’t take much time or effort to put together this information, and I believe it’s necessary on many fronts.

It’s in our hands to make it happen!  

For further discussion, see this post in Facebook Groups Farmers and Ranchers
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