Educate alpaca producers on the benefits of grading and sorting fleeces to improve usability and return on investment.

2009 Annual Report for FNC08-707

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2008: $5,996.50
Projected End Date: 12/31/2010
Region: North Central
State: Missouri
Project Coordinator:

Educate alpaca producers on the benefits of grading and sorting fleeces to improve usability and return on investment.


• Sorting demonstration at MOPACA Invitational Show providing informational brochures as well as discussing in detail the fiber sorting process and benefits to farm owners. Each demonstration event includes a booth where individual fleeces are sorted using a 6-grade sorting method. Each grade consists of a three micron range, grade 1 is great than 20 microns, grade 2 is 20 to 22.9 microns, grade 3 is 23 to 25.9 microns, etc. The fiber is placed out on a sorting table that allows dirt and debris to fall through but not the fiber itself. The undesirable parts of the fleece such as heavy guard hair, vegetable matter or foreign objects are removed and discarded. Six samples are then taken from across the fleece and evaluated against certified grade samples. From those samples the grade range is determined and the fleece is manually pulled apart and examined to determine the grade for that portion and then placed into the corresponding barrel for the grade. During this process visitors are watching and asking questions about the process; how long does it take, the need, the benefit and the end results of fiber sorting. Once a fleece is completed then the next fleece of similar color is placed on the table and the process is repeated.
Brochures are handed out and questions about how they can have their fiber sorted are answered. The most common question is “What can I do with my fiber once it is sorted?” A list of mills is provided with contact information. Suggestions on end products are also made.
• Sorting demonstration at Dos Donas Ranch, providing informational brochures and detailed discussions with farm owners. During the annual shearing days at Dos Donas, a sorting table is set up so that I can sort the fiber as it comes off the animal. The process is the same as described above and questions are answered as guests and visitors come through and watch. There is one difference; when sorting at shearing events the shearer usually comes by from time to time to discuss the results of the clip, are there any changes he should make, am I observing any problems with the fleece after it comes off the animal? The shearer is looking for problems with fiber—specifically fiber that is cut too short or is damaged in any way. A good shearer will work with the sorter or sorting crew to give the farm owner the optimal product he can. He can also shorten some of the sort time by skirting problem areas as he goes. That means using his clippers to remove problem or unwanted fiber from prime clip as he shears the animal.
Brochures are handed out and questions are answered during the day as visitors and owners of boarded animals come to check progress of the sorting process.
• Sorting at five ranches with demonstrations for owners and/or to attendees. Detailed sorting instruction and explanation is given to farm owners and visitors.
• Announcement of grant in MOPACA newsletter soliciting volunteers for sorting.
• Distributed 250 flyers in “show bags” for attendees at MOPACA Invitational Show.
• Attended annual Fiber Symposium, Gaston NC; discussed benefits of fiber sorting, attended panel discussions on the future of the fiber industry in the US. Networked with over 300 attendees making contacts for fiber sorting-friendly mills and their requirements.

A review of the Fiber Symposium was presented to the MOPACA membership with discussion topics for the group to discuss.

Yearly expenditures included:
o Annual Fiber Symposium
o Provided demonstration at MOPACA Invitational Alpaca Show in Kansas City, MO
o Supplies for fiber sorting
o Laptop computer and software
o Scale
o Mileage to and from farm visits for
o Services for sorting 188 fleeces including mileage, meals, etc.

Once producers understand the advantage, they generally accept the process and see improvement in quality and quantity of their yield. The overall comments from the alpaca producers are positive and they often recommend fiber sorting to other farm owners.

It has become clear that the majority of farm owners who want to profit more from their herd fleece and want to utilize their fiber, do not know what will give them the best product. They don’t know what mills will work with them or the market for their products that is available. Once a farm owner starts to embrace the fiber sorting methodology and its potential benefits, they find that their finished products are of a higher quality. As sorted and graded fiber generates a higher-end product of finer quality, high-end boutiques are more interested in carrying these products. The producer’s potential market changes from arts and crafts venues and strictly yarn sales, to an extended product line.

There is still a portion of the industry that resists the transition and wants to remain a niche market. Selling only to hand spinners, weavers and knitters, they think that they can only sell their product if they make the items personal, “this fiber came from Fluffy”.

With Dos Donas for example, Kristina Flagel had attempted to have her fiber processed five years earlier. The result was lost fiber and poor quality products after a multi-thousand-dollar expenditure for processing. This season she was convinced to have her fiber sorted. The results were much better than she expected. She sent her fiber to a mill in Canada and had throws and yarn made. Fiber was also sent to a U.S. mill to manufacture socks. She was very pleased with the quality of the products she received from both mills which strengthens the understanding that it is a raw material improvement, not necessarily a mill process. As a result, she has started encouraging other alpaca producers to have their fiber sorted. She commented that most producers don’t know what they should expect when they get their fiber processed and now she knows that she can have a product of superior quality to sell.

Brenda Anton had her fiber sorted using the method described in section 1. She sent her sorted fiber to a mini mill—The Shepherds Mill of Kansas—where she had the fiber made into yarn. The owner of Shepherds Mill commented directly to Brenda that they could see a marked improvement in the quality of her fiber over previous years, as well as a decrease in waste and debris in the fiber to be processed.

The coming year we are planning to provide demonstrations and information at the MOPACA Invitational Show, AOBA National Conference and Show, and the MOPACA Fiber Forum. MOPACA events are regional and encompass Missouri and surrounding states, but often draw attendees from as far as Colorado, Vermont, and Ohio.

Flyers will be distributed and mailed out soliciting farms to participate in the grant project.

Additional fleeces will be sorted, and producers educated on the benefits and process of fiber sorting and grading.

Articles reporting results of the grant will be submitted to:
Camelid Quarterly and Alpacas magazines;
Alpaca Registry, Inc., Alpaca Owners and Breeders Association (AOBA) and the Suri Network, which are all national alpaca organizations, for their research repositories.

We provided demonstrations of fiber sorting at the MOPACA Invitational Show in Kansas City, Missouri, providing ongoing demonstration and answering questions to those stopping to observe and inquire. The attendance of the MOPACA Invitational Show was over 250. Each participant received a show bag which included the flier describing the benefits of fiber sorting.

At Dos Donas we sorted during the annual shearing days – a two-day event that included guests and visitors as well as owners from other farms bringing their animals to be shorn by the visiting shearing professional. I was set up centrally so that all could come by and discuss sorting and the benefits of the process. The two day total was approximately 25.

At the annual shearing event at Whirlwind Ranch, we were again set up in a central location so that visitors and guests could come by and ask questions and observe. The total visitors for the day were estimated at 10.

• MOPACA Demo 25 attendees
• Dos Donas 14 attendees
• Whirlwind Ranch 10 attendees
• Osage Alpacas 11 attendees

Demonstrations are planned for the MOPACA regional alpaca show and the AOBA national alpaca show. A presentation has been submitted for the MOPACA fiber education seminar. Additional shearing events are expected for this year, with demonstrations as described above. In addition, articles will be submitted to a number of organizations explaining the grant and results.

Note: MOPACA is the Missouri and surrounding states regional alpaca owners association, affiliated with the national Alpaca Owners and Breeders Association (AOBA).

Objectives/Performance Targets


Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes