Beyond the contribution of nutrition and adequate care of alpacas to maintain healthy herds, breeding practices are at the heart of what goes into making alpaca fleece soft. The science of alpaca breeding employs several different methods, ranging from inbreeding to breeding unrelated animals, all for the purpose of improving the fleece quality of future generations.
Using a mix of alpaca genetics and breeder know-how, animals are bred for size and color as well as the traits of their fleece. The quality of alpaca fibers is described by its dimensions, according to international standards established by the industry. Most important is the diameter of the alpaca’s fleece, measured by its micron count, the average diameter of the hair, which is assigned a number. The lower the number, the softer the fiber is. Visitors who travel to Peru may think that baby alpaca refers to the age of the animal, but that is not the case. The term means a micron count below twenty-three, though the lowest counts are most likely to come from the animal’s first shearing when it is the youngest, about one year of age. At the other end of the alpaca fiber spectrum is the huarizo, denoting not the hybrid species of alpaca and llama but a fiber diameter of twenty-eight to twenty-nine microns. The animal’s linage may be pure, just coarse. The term “crimp” refers to the waviness of the fibers which affects the appearance of the yarn.
The textiles industry works with farmers to improve the quality of fleece. To rekindle interest among famers in raising alpacas, Grupo Inca established Pacomarca, a 3,700-acre experimental farm, located east of the Cusco-Juliaca route to Lake Titicaca and north of Chivay, a town where visitors on Peru adventure vacations may stop during their Colca Canyon hiking tours. The ranch educates herdsmen about best practices for shearing, breeding and maintaining the health of the animals. The facility also distributes stock from the some 2,000 alpacas that are bred there to improve herds elsewhere. The textiles conglomerate offers tours of Pacomarca during shearing season as well as at its alpaca fleece processing factory in Arequipa.
The National Council of South American Camelids (CONACS) is Peru’s government agency responsible for protecting the country’s four camelid species. To help protect the species, it imported alpaca herds to many Andean communities and has established hundreds of alpaca breeding stations in the Puno and Arequipa departments. CONACS registers alpacas and breeders as well as ensuring that alpaca export regulations are followed.
Research is important to maintain fiber quality and prevent the parasitic diseases to which the species is prone, undermining the herd’s health and causing high mortality among young alpacas. The alpaca industry collaborates with government and various Peruvian universities to conduct alpaca studies at experimental stations in the Andean region.
Some breeders also operate factories that process the fleece. At 7,500-acre Mallkini Ranch, home to some 2,000 alpacas in Azangaro near Juliaca, genetic research is conducted and educational seminars are held. The complex is owned by the Michell Company, a textiles conglomerate that is renowned for its alpaca fabrics.
Several of Southern Explorations’ Peru tours travel in the regions where alpacas are bred. These include the six Machu Picchu tours that travel to Lake Titicaca, with itineraries ranging from nine to eighteen days as well as the four Peru tours and one tour extension that visit Arequipa and Colca Canyon. Two of our Peru tours visit both Lake Titicaca and Colca Canyon, the fourteen-day Best of Peru tour and the eighteen day Adventure Peru trip. One accommodations option on all of our Peru tours to Colca Canyon is the Colca Lodge, owned by Grupo Inca.