An alpaca is born with the ability to produce fine, high-quality fiber for soft, warm clothing, but its fiber quality can be managed over time through nutrition. Nutrition is essential for alpaca health and quality fiber production.
In a roundtable discussion sponsored by Mazuri, a leader in nutrition for exotic animals, three alpaca owners highlighted how they’re working to improve their herd’s fleece quality with nutrition.
Dee Stielow and her husband have an alpaca farm, Salt Creek Alpacas, in Farmer City, Ill. They chose alpacas because they enjoy the science and hands-on challenges of providing the next generation of genetics in a young industry. As a small breeder, the Steilows have raised their own color champions in every color category, even though they breed only two or three alpacas each season.
Bobby and Diane Dickerson started out with four suri alpacas on their Rock’n D Alpacas farm in Oklahoma City, Okla., a little more than seven years ago. The Dickersons travel all over the nation showing their alpacas and said they realize how important nutrition is to the animals' fleece.
Jim Konyn and his wife bought 12 suri alpacas about 10 years ago and are improving fiber through the generations. They are located in northeastern Wisconsin and actively show their suris in fleece shows and spinoffs across the nation.
What makes a quality alpaca fleece?
"We care about the micron diameter, staple length, brightness, architecture and handle -- or softness -- of the fiber. As a breeder, I look at both genetics and nutrition when evaluating and predicting fleece quality in offspring," Stielow explained.
Bobby Dickerson added that "the complete package" is important, including density, micron, luster and the organized lock structure, which is what the fleeces are judged on in the show ring.
"Improving the quality of fleece is important in the fiber industry when producing alpaca garments with a super-soft feel. The ideal animal will have secondary and primary fibers close together, even as they get older," Dickerson said.
How does nutrition affect fleece quality?
Konyn noted, "Nutrition is part of the alpaca’s environment, which must lend itself to producing better fiber. ... If you're buying the cheapest nutrition you can find, you won’t get high-quality fleece. You must put quality in to get quality out."
"Whether it’s the hay or supplement quality, what the animal consumes will impact its fleece," Stielow said. "Many breeders recognize that overfeeding or providing the wrong feed will blow out or coarsen fiber. Proper nutrition is vital."
Dickerson added that poor nutrition can make the fleece appear dull, while high-quality nutrition can make it shine.
"Dr. Norm Evans, an alpaca nutrition partner with Mazuri, encouraged us to start by testing the orchard hay our program revolves around. We balance the nutrient levels in the hay with Mazuri feeds to fill any gaps. To ensure offspring grow properly and reach full genetic potential, we’ve learned it’s crucial to provide the mothers with quality nutrition to pass on to her cria," Dickerson said.
Konyn noted that a cria’s fiber follicles develop in utero so it's important for the mothers to have the right nutrition to ensure proper growth and development of those fiber follicles for her baby. The Konyns make sure their nutrition program includes high-quality nutrition for their alpacas to start the next generation off right.
Mazuri diets are manufactured with high-quality ingredients and the latest technology in private, company-owned manufacturing facilities. Mazuri supports ongoing research and conservation through grants and sponsorships with other animal experts.