I was contacted by someone yesterday that wanted to know what it would take to raise a sheep to the point of fiber harvest. She asked for a brief description. I could probably make it into a short story, but there’s nothing brief about raising fiber animals.
This morning I remembered this video that’s somewhat of a time lapse of the process.
The important points:
Get to know your breed before coming home with it. Can you have just one? With alpacas, I say no less than 3 of the same gender.
Do you have sufficient acreage and housing? Alpacas don’t really like to be cooped up in a barn, so they always need to have access to their pasture. You will need good fencing that will keep away predators and I recommend a livestock guardian dog to keep your animals safe, like our Great Pyrenees, Mia.
What will you feed your fiber animal? Hopefully our brown pasture will be turning green in about a month, so they will have fresh stuff to eat. You will need a good source of hay and grain (if you chose to supplement). Do some research on the vitamins and minerals they need to get good nutrition allowing them to grow great fiber.
Do you want babies/cria? There can be a lot of added expenses when breeding your own stock. Veterinarians are not cheap, especially when it takes them an hour to get to our farm and the nearest hospital is 3 hours away. Medications can also get expensive if needed. Some babies/cria might need 24 hour care. Do you have the time for this?
Don’t want babies/cria? With alpacas, a nice little herd of 3-5 gelded fiber boys can be perfect for a starter fiber farm. They will require less medical attention (hopefully!!) than females and you will still get the fiber harvest each year. They are usually a lot less expensive than breeding females, so that can be a plus if you have a smaller budget.
What to do with the fiber? Know what you want to do with it before you get it. Do you want to shear and then sell it directly to a fiber artist? Do you want to keep the fiber and process it yourself? Do you want to have it semi-processed at a mill, like turned into roving, and then turn it into yarn or felt yourself? I can take alpaca fiber straight off the animal, spin it and make something to wear from it. All these things are labor intensive, but they don’t cost much if you don’t count the money spent on processing tools.
If you want to process it yourself here are some things you will need: You can be as low tech as a dog brush and a spindle. You can spend less than $20 and be ready to go. Our farm is in the fiber business and my time IS my money, so I have to take as many shortcuts as possible to save my time so I can make more money. The drum carder I own is selling for $750. I have two spinning wheels and one electric wheel that cost a total of over $1300. I have other tools like blending hackles, English combs, rigid heddle loom, fiber blending board, triangle, square and rectangle looms. That will easily add close to another $1000.
None of this is meant to discourage you, it’s just to get you thinking and also leave you with an appreciation of how much goes into making a skein of yarn from one of our alpacas and why it will cost more than buying a cheap acrylic yarn from Walmart. There can be a lot of joy sharing your life with your fiber buddies. We even have our German Angora, Mr. Madison, in our house along with our lion head, Miss Wabbit. They make great house pets.
There is so much more to it than what I’ve written above and I will be happy to answer any more questions you may have. Please take a moment to watch the video. It will help you understand some of what I’ve written about now and in the future.