What Is Alpace Fleece?
The odds are good you've never heard of alpaca fleece before. Indeed, it's quite possible that you haven't the faintest idea what on earth an Alpaca even is. So I've created this page to take some of the mystery out of Alpaca's and alpaca fleece.
Alpaca's are fully domesticated sheep that have been imported from Peru in South America. Once upon a time, the fleece from the alpaca (or their fur, if you will) was considered extremely rare and only worn by those with lots of money or who were from royalty.
Alpaca's are known for their very gentle demeanor. Indeed, Alpaca's are frequently purchased for pets, as they are very friendly and calm around young children.
Today, many ranches/farms in the United States raise Alpaca's. These ranches raise the Alpaca's for their soft, warm fleece (shearling)- which is sheered off (cut-off) about once a year. No Alpaca's are killed or injured in obtaining their fleece. Instead, they simply get a haircut once a year - not so different than normal sheep which are sheered once a year for their wool.
So what makes Alpaca fleece different than normal wool? The softness. Alpaca fleece is significantly softer than normal wool. The best comparison for Alpaca fleece is that it is roughly equivalent in softness and insulating abilities to Merino wool, which is used in Ugg Boots, Smartwool socks and other hearling products from New Zealand and Australia. Additionally, Alpaca fleece, similar to Merino Wool, does not have the "scratchy" feeling that normal wool has.
Similar to other wool, the fleece from Alpaca's are very warm - actually warmer than normal sheep wool. The fleece has hollow air-fibers that provide superb insulation - even when wet.
A Few Other Questions Answered About Alpaca Wool
What is Baby Alpaca?
- The term "baby alpaca" refers to a type of alpaca fiber that is rare. It does NOT mean the fiber was taken from a baby (young) alpaca!
Are Alpaca's Used for Anything Else?
- Alpaca's are used exclusively for either their fleece (which is cut once a year) or for pets.
Merino Wool vs. Alpaca Wool
One of the big questions people have is whether to get a product made of Merino Wool (found in Ugg Boots and Smartwool Socks) or Alpaca Wool. In terms of warmth, there is little difference between the two products - at least nothing that will be noticed by the person wearing it. Under the microscope, Merino Wool does have some subtle differences from Alpaca wool. But since few people bother to closely examine their apparel under the microscope, these subtle differences aren't important.
In terms of softness, Alpaca wool is much, much softer than normal sheep wool but, to many people, not quite as soft as Merino wool. A good rule of thumb is that if you positively can't wear any normal wool products due to itch and irritation, you'll always be safe buying a Merino wool product. I have yet to read of anybody who found an Ugg Boot or Smartwool sock "itchy or scratchy." Nor have I ever "itched or scratched" in my Ugg Slippers or Smartwool winter socks. As for Alpaca wool, most people will not have any itching or scratching problems with it. However, a few people who are very sensitive to wool still might.
Some Advantages of Alpaca Wool
Alpaca wool, however, does have three advantages over Merino wool. First, virtually all Alpaca fleece (shearling) comes from animals bred and raised in the USA - not in Australia or New Zealand. As anybody who has attempted to buy Ugg Boots know, Merino wool can be very difficult to find at times. Alpaca fleece is more widely available. Secondly, products made from Alpaca wool tend to be less expensive than products made from Merino wool, both because Alpaca wool isn't as popular as Merino wool and because the wool doesn't have to be imported from half a world away. Finally, Alpaca wool comes in a multitude of colors. Alpaca wool can also easily be dyed, allowing products made from Alapca wool to be of any color imaginable.
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