I have loved fiber for many years, yet still would not call myself an expert. I am especially in love with Camelid (llama and alpaca) and Pygora fibers. All three are light in weight and provide great warmth without bulk.
Llamas are double-coated animals. The down keeps the animal warm and the guard hair protects the animal and the down fiber. This fiber is throughout the coat of the animal. I remove the guard hair either by hand or it is removed during fiber processing at the mill leaving only the down fiber that is easy and lovely to work with.
I’ve been working with this fiber since 1986, at which time little was known about what to do with it. Over the years, those of us who work with llama fiber gained a greater understanding of what a fabulous fiber it was and learned our trade from the ground up.
Llama coats can be different from animal to animal—you may get fantastic fiber from one and mostly guard hair from another. That’s why dehairing is important to me. Llama’s fiber yield (weight) after washing is 90 percent, which means that less than 10 percent is lanolin. It is odorless and hypoallergenic. The yield per animal is approximately two+ to four+ pounds per shearing, and the animals are sheared every one to three years.
Alpaca fiber is a wonderful fiber to work with. There are two types of Alpacas: the Suri, which can be very silky or flat in appearance, I find it very easy to spin; and the Huacaya, which is more common and is equally nice to work with. The Suri is only 10% (or less) of the Alpaca population, produces a denser fiber having an air shaft within the hair fiber that is narrower thus giving that denser quality and provides lovely drape. The Huacaya has an air shaft which is larger so it has more air within the fiber and gives it the feel of more bounce. Alpacas are sheared yearly and yield an average of two+ to four+ pounds of blanket per shearing. I use most of the neck and leg fiber to make felted sheet which then are made into many different products.
Pygora fiber is very soft and silky and has great luster and loft. The yield is not as great as other animals and needs to be dehaired, most successful at a fiber mill. Both causing Pygora fiber to be pricier but a LOVELY fiber. On average, I obtain one pound per animal per semiannual shearing, then lose up to half of that in the dehairing process. There are three types [descriptions of growth- not a grading) of Pygora fiber and all three are represented on our farm. It is one of the unique characteristics of the Pygora; the fiber can grow in one of three ways, yet still be considered Pygora. In the end the fiber is basically all the same. An animal can have a fiber growth pattern called an A, which means it resembles Angora; or a B, which is a combination of A & C; or a C, which is like Cashmere. I combine many of my fibers in spinning and many of my garments have a mix of Llama, Alpaca, and sometimes Pygora, in a single item.
Our chickens produce eggs year round; we primarily have Red Star with a few Leghorns and Araucanas thrown in the mix. The Red Star hens are calm and good layers of brown shell eggs. They are relatively new breeds that are “sex linked.” That means that male and female chicks are different colors when they hatch, so you never have to wonder whether you’re getting a pullet or a cockerel. The white Leghorns are an excitable hen but they are prolific layers of a white shell egg. And the Araucanas produce a green or pink egg shell. We rotate our chickens out every three years.Banner photos (from left to right) were taken by: Penny Bauer, Nancy Richardson, Mary Donaty, and Sonny Richardson. The llama photo was taken by Mary, the alpaca and chicken photos by Nancy, and the goat photo by Jill Mann.