Fleece preparation Notes

The following article was prepared for a meeting with a few of our local alpaca breeders. Hope you find it as useful as they did!

What we have found so far…………

We thought sharing our learning may be handy in preparation for the upcoming shearing season.

We’re including items that we now know that will assist in getting the best possible products from your fibre. Whilst we can’t speak for other mills, almost all the existing groups in Australia run a semi-worsted system like ours, hence these notes will be applicable to whomever you choose to add value to your fibre. It is by no means exhaustive and we’re just learning our craft, however, we thought, why not share if it gets a better value add product? We welcome any questions and can give more specific answers to issues but thought this would assist now in preparing for shearing season.

1.     Consistent inputs: As the milling process is targeting a consistent product, the more consistent the inputs the better.

What we mean by this is that fibre that “looks” the same to the machinery will always run smoother and hence you will get a more consistent product.

Areas of consistency to consider that we have found makes a difference are;

  • Fibre average and distribution on diameter (best to keep 27±5 micron fleeces together rather than combine a 27±5  in a 22±4 lot)
  • Fibre handle (Fleeces that have the same handle or ‘feel’ perform better than combining)
  • Fibre length (To enable the most consistent roving or yarn through the drafting components of the process try to keep the fibre staple lengths the same i.e. try not to combine necks with saddle if they are of different lengths). Also be aware short 2nd cuts and remove.
  • Remove weak fibre. The process components align fibres and in doing so if there are weak points in your fibre, it may break. This then could put short cuts into the product.

2.     Vegetable matter. Every part of the process takes out VM however the only way to truly eradicate VM from the finished product is either to remove it by hand/ skirting prior to sending or using the acidic carbonising processes (which we’re sure no-one in Australia would even contemplate introducing). Seeds and grasses have developed pods such that they are very good at attaching to fibres to be transported. From an evolutionary perspective, brilliant! But a bit more painful to remove for us. Many seed pods will be ground down in the process, however this can spread the problem further. Best way to eradicate has to include pasture management and picking prior to sending. Again, if the “crows nest” at the base of the neck is thick of VM, skirt it out, don’t let it contaminate the rest of the saddle.

3.     Colours. Be creative!! You can blend an infinite amount of colours from the natural colours afforded in the species. We find this really exciting, be creative and unique.

4.     Dehairing. This machine works by seeing a difference between primary and secondary fibres characteristics in terms of being heavier and straighter. Whilst it works well, it is no substitute for skirting better and there will be losses of good fibre. How much depends on the difference the machinery “sees”. It is most effective on lower micron and higher crimp fibre.

5.     Skirting at time of shearing. Be aggressive in skirting by removing anything that might degrade your product. It’s amazing how 1 tuft of belly hair can blend throughout an entire bag and degrade the whole product. Also look for sticks and stones.

6.     Dirt: Wow there a lot of dirt in alpaca fleece!! Try hand-opening over a piece of white paper! Anything that you can shake out prior to sending improves your yield and ultimately gets a better product. Try a quick hand opening/ teasing prior to bagging up and sending. This way you can ensure consistency and remove quite a bit of dirt prior to arrival. 

7.     Lengths: The minimum (for us about 70mm) is determined by the closest drawing setting on the spinning frame, so we can potentially create rovings from shorter fibre, however sometimes (especially if it’s straight) it will struggle to get from the carder the can for coiling. The maximum (140mm for us) is set by the distance between rollers on the carder as if it is longer, it may be aligned by 2 stripper rollers at once and create breakages. Ideal is 100-110 for our equipment.

8.     Minimums: At the start and end of each major process is the “tail” of the roving or what was left on the carder when you finish inputing fibre. This part if not the same thickness ends up as mill ends. The amount lost is the same quantity for a 5kg run as a 100kg run and will vary from fleece to fleece. Hence whilst the equipment is capable of doing runs less than 5 kg, we wouldn’t feel right handing back a low yield. The more that is going to processes in a run, the better the yield. Other mills that have smaller equipment may lose less if you’re looking at really small batches?

9.     Good fibre = Good product.  Look for consistent and soft inputs, not necessarily <15micron. All the breeding that has happened in our industry is working towards the consistent and enhanced product. Let’s put the best foot out on show in the market place.

There is so much satisfaction for everyone here involved in producing high quality product from natural fibres. We’re really enjoying sharing the experience of value add with our customers and thankyou for allowing us to play with your fleece. Our area truly has some amazing quality animals!

Thanks for the support shown through encouragement emails and calls to patronage of our business to support on Facebook. We’re really excited thinking where the industry and in particular our corner of it is heading and wish everyone luck over the upcoming shearing season.