Llamas and alpacas can provide two direct sources of income: fiber and live sales. Live-sale uses for llamas can include breeding stock, fiber-producing stock, pack animals, cart-pulling animals, golf caddies, companion pets, animals for pet therapy programs for nursing homes and schools, and guardians for alpacas, sheep, or goats. Live-sale uses for alpacas are mainly breeding stock or fiber producing stock, though they also make good therapy animals.
Llamas are usually shorn annually and have a double- hair coat consisting of a fi ne wool fiber intermingled with stiff guard hairs. The guard hairs can be left in when making rugs and ropes. But before spinners and weavers can use the 4- to 7-inch-long llama fiber for knitting and weaving other products, the guard hairs have to be removed.
Alpacas are raised to be fiber-producing animals. They are usually shorn annually and produce between 50 and 90 ounces of first-quality fiber and 50 to 100 ounces of second- and third quality fiber, though some animals may exceed these levels (Berman, 2011). Because alpacas have been bred as fiber animals, they should naturally not have many guard hairs mixed in their fiber.
World market price for alpaca fiber ranges from $2 to $10 per pound. Only the highest grades of fiber, finer than 20 microns in diameter, will command higher prices. Each stage of processing, including cleaning, carding, spinning, knitting, and finishing, adds value. A finished garment may sell for $10 per ounce, and hand-knit garments have sold for as much as $1,000.
The alpaca community is working to build both commercial and cottage industries for alpaca fiber as the national herd grows. Commercial fiber processors prefer white fiber, but there is a niche market for colored fiber within the cottage industry.
Fiber artists enjoy working with naturally colored fiber because it does not require the added step of dying. Producers should be aware, however, that developing the potential of this niche fiber market requires time and effort.
Some positive aspects of alpaca fiber are its softness, uniform fineness, resilience, and thermal capacity. Alpaca fiber provides warmth despite its light weight. Spinners, weavers, and knitters use the fiber for fi ne textiles. The sheared fiber from one alpaca is usually enough to make four to six sweaters (Altizio and Westendorf, 1998). There is an application for every grade of alpaca fiber, but the clothing grades, 14 through 25 microns, are in the highest demand. Since neither alpacas nor llamas produce lanolin, the fiber does not need to be scoured before it can be spun.
A growing trend in the llama and alpaca industry is the fiber CSA (community supported agriculture). A CSA allows consumers to purchase shares directly from a farmer, who can then approach the growing season with confidence based on this influx of cash. Though the number of fiber CSAs is not large, the CSA fiber market is gaining popularity due to increased demand on the part of craftspeople.
In return for purchasing a share in a fiber CSA, consumers receive raw fiber, processed batts, roving, or yarn. Shares are generally sold before spring or fall shearing, and range in price from $100 to $180. Some producers are very specific regarding what the shareholder can expect to receive, whereas others indicate that the share will vary depending upon the size of the clip.