Alpacas originate from the high plains in west-central South America. However The genetics developed for alpaca in the United Kingdom are crucial to the production of high quality cloth. The fibre produced in British is different because the husbandry regime and nutrition management is different to that in Peru, Chile and Bolivia.
The pictures below illustrates the difference.
Alpacas in South America are a farmed as a herd in the mountains and villages. They are dependent on the natural resources which are available in abundance in the mountains.
In the UK, they are treasured as a unique fibre producing animal and the aim of the commercial breeders is to improve the genetics of the alpaca so that both the confirmation and the fibre improve. The numbers bred in the UK by comparison to the South American herds are smaller and there is much money spent on improving alpaca fibre so it can achieve a micron count well below 18. The British Alpaca we use for our very best cloth has a micron count between 15 and 19.
Alpaca fibre is a natural fibre harvested from the Alpaca, an animal that is traditionally raised as fibre producing livestock. Alpaca are shorn annually and the fibre is scoured, combed, carded and spun either as a worsted yarn or a woollen yarn.
Shorn every year, an alpaca will produce a fleece that weighs between 2 and 4 kilograms. The staple length—the length of the sheared locks without stretching or disturbing the crimp is between 10 and 20 centimetres.
Alpaca fibre unlike sheep is hollow. It contains air. This is what makes it light and warm.
Alpaca fibre comes in an extraordinary variety of 22 natural colours, ranging from pure white through fawn, to a range of browns and a true jet black. This enables black and white yarns to be mixed without any need for colour runs. Luxurious garments crafted from the silky fibre have the "look and feel" of cashmere. Furnishings and drapes have a unique texture.