“It’s all about the fiber.”

It is not only breeding decisions, which “criate” better fiber producers with each succeeding generation, but also what we do with our annual harvest of all that fabulous fiber that sets Longwoods Alpacas apart from so many farms and ranches that focus solely on selling breeding livestock. Every spring we realize a year’s worth of breeding, nutrition, and animal husbandry decisions when we harvest our alpacas’ fiber and ship it off to be processed into yarn and other finished goods. In years past, we sent our best blanket fiber to mills to be spun into yarn, while the neck fiber was either felted or thrown out with the leg/belly/chest fiber. Once Pam took the fiber sorting course, we realized it is ALL profitable, but you have to know what you have before you can decide what to do with it! Since Spring 2008, our fiber has been sorted as soon as it comes off the animals, offering us a more uniform raw material and a wider range of processing options.

What is Fiber Sorting?

Fleeces are sorted according to color, length and fineness or “grade” in order to provide the most uniform fiber possible for processing at its highest and best use. Since most fleeces contain a variety of lengths, colors and grades, many producers only use the best blanket fiber, throwing away as much as 30-40% of their annual harvest.

ADVANTAGES OF SORTED FIBER:
  • Having your fiber sorted results in more usable fiber. More raw material available to you makes for more profit.
  • Sorted fiber has less waste in processing. This means more end product for you and again more profit.
  • No more bags of fiber taking over the guest room, hayloft, or cellar. It’s ready to go!
How does “sorting” differ from “skirting”?
Skirted fiber has had the strongest fiber and most obvious contaminants (such as vegetable matter and dung tags), removed –- mostly from around the edges -- whereas sorted fiber from many alpacas of one color is actually placed in separate bins according to length and grade.

DEFINITIONS:

WL: The Woolen method of processing utilizes fiber that is 1.5 - 3.75 inches in length and produces lofty yarns. High amplitude crimp adds loft.

BEST USES:
  • Medium to bulky weight knitting yarns for sweaters, hats, scarves, etc.
  • Higher grades make wonderful duvets, rug yarns, and are good for felting and fulling.
  • WR: The Worsted method of processing utilizes fiber that is 3.75 – 6 inches in length. An extra combing step is added to align the fibers. Worsted yarns are smooth with a tighter twist. Low amplitude crimp works well.

    BEST USES:
  • Lighter weight knitting yarns such as fingering, lace, DK and Sport for knitting and weaving.
  • Higher grades are also good for sock yarns, rugs and felting.
  • Grade: Fiber diameter range of 3 microns; grade 1 being the finest (<20 microns) to grade 6 being the strongest (>32 microns).

    Certified Sorted®: Fiber has been sorted by a certified sorter or an apprentice according to standards and practices developed for efficient and accurate sorting.

    OPTIONS:

    Once your fiber is Certified Sorted®, you can have your harvest processed on your own, you can pool it with others who have Certified Sorted® fiber, or do a little of both!

    1. Join the Natural Fiber Producers Co-op (which accepts only Certified Sorted® fiber) to gain access to commercial processing for yarn, socks, duvets and other products. You pay the production (as low as $17.00/lb) and shipping costs. As a member, you may sell products yourself at retail or the coop will wholesale (depending on products, profit range from $25/lb - $) them on your behalf. As a Certified Sorter I will be happy to help you with your sorting needs. Visit www.naturalfiberproducers.com and www.fibersbynature.com for more information.

    2. If you don't want yarn or other finished goods returned to you or sold at wholesale on your behalf, join the Alpaca Fiber Cooperative of North America (AFCNA) and ship them your well-skirted fiber. They will sort, wash, and process the fiber into socks and other goods which they wholesale to farms and retail to the public on their website. You pay only to ship fiber to AFCNA. Any net profits from the sale of the finished goods are shared proportionately by those members who contribute fiber (2011 saw payments ranging from $6.00/lb for grade 1 down to $1.05/lb for grade 6).

    3. Send your sorted fiber to the mini-mill or spinnery of your choice to be processed into yarn, rovings, batts, etc. Please remember to blend only like grade and like processing method, i.e. WL3 with WL3, but not WR3 with WL3 or WR4. Make sure any additives such as merino, silk, bamboo, tencel, etc. are also of like grade and length.

    SORTING FEES:

    Longwoods Alpacas Sorting Service will charge the following:

  • Live sort (on shearing day): $15/fleece – includes blanket, neck, and leg/belly/chest
  • Out of the bag: $20/fleece ($15/fleece if the fiber has been collected properly and “noodled”)
  • Out of the bag, blanket only: $2.75/lb

    In addition, you agree to pay $0.55/mile travel expenses or plane fare. If you are more than 3 hours from Cumberland, ME, you also agree to provide meals and overnight accommodations. If you prefer, you may mail your blanket and neck fiber to me at 135 Longwoods Road, Cumberland, ME 04021. It costs about $1.00/lb to ship fiber, and I will forward the sorted fiber directly to the mill or coop. Shipping will be added to your invoice.

    Why should you consider paying someone to sort your fiber?

    1. Organization of the annual harvest of fiber, sorted into grades by color and length. It is bagged, labeled, and ready for shipping to the Regional Collection Facility or processor-of-choice!

    2. Individual sort record for each alpaca with data that includes the weight of each fleece by body area, grades of area, comments on luster/brightness, density, uniformity of crimp or lock style, test for tenderness, and sorter comments on the fiber’s strengths and weaknesses as well as recommended best use.

    3. Interactive inventory for the entire clip. The summary provides information on the amount of fiber in each grade, color and length category. This enables the producer to make manufacturing decisions for their clip and allows them to track their farm’s productivity and average fleece weight per alpaca. The interactive inventory also illustrates profit at wholesale and retail available to members of NFP, a national fiber cooperative. Producers can immediately see potential returns on Certified Sorted® fiber submitted to NFP. The final page of the interactive inventory also assists the fiber producer in calculating the cost to grow their fiber. This is an important number to know – to be profitable one must be able to sell fiber for more than it costs to grow!

    4. Suggested uses for each grade of fiber. The sorter can assist the producers in recognizing fiber goals, and sort their fiber in a manner that best supports those goals. Appropriate uses for each grade will be discussed, as well as general processing information and resources to assist the fiber producer. The average grade of the fiber herd can be determined, as well as feedback on goals that may have already been set.

    5. Assistance with herd management. Because the sorting process is very thorough, external parasites, skin conditions, etc. are identified. Close visual inspection of your fiber also gives clues on times of stress or illness which can in turn help the fiber producer fine- tune herd management practices.

    6. Assistance with breeding decisions. The sort record identifies each alpaca’s fiber strengths and weaknesses. The “Alpaca Dating Game” offers an approach to making specific breeding decisions geared towards reinforcing strengths and improving weaknesses. Show ribbons do not provide this specific information.

    7. Increase in usable fiber. Utilizing the Certified Sorted® system reduces the amount of fiber that ends up in the garden, burn pile, or trash bin. With good shearing, collection, and sorting, typical waste is less than 8 oz. per alpaca! In addition, sorted fiber has 10 -15 % less loss at the mill than unsorted fiber. More usable fiber translates to more product and lower cost per unit.

    8. Superior products created from sorted fiber command higher prices and encourage repeat customers.

    9. The opportunity to become a member of Natural Fiber Producers Co op, with access to reduced processing costs, retail outlets and marketing.