Table of Contents

 

See also the “Mohair (goats)” chapter.

 

1. Overview

  • Speciality fibres refer in general to those natural hairs or wools that enhance garments in some way, be it in terms of warmth, handle, or lustre. The very nature of many of these fibres is such that the environment in which the animals live contributes to the properties of warmth in particular that makes the fibre "special". Whilst there are a number of exceptions to the rule, many of the better-known fibres come from either the goat family or the camel family.
  • Speciality fibres are different to commodity fibres - cotton or standard wool of above 18 microns or so. When wool gets as low as 15 micron it also becomes a speciality fibre, partly because wool of that fineness is very difficult to grow and very scarce.
  • A major advantage of speciality fibres is that they lend themselves to the big brands and can get the producer closer to the supply chain through direct contracts with processors - as opposed to the open cry auction system used for commodities.
  • The specialised fibres looked at in this chapter are mostly those from goats (cashmere), alpacas and Angora rabbits. For mohair, please consult the separate chapter.
Source: www.heritage-cashmere.co.uk and Roelof Bezuidenhout

 

2. Cashmere

A number of International role players in cashmere can be found on the Cashmere and Camel Hair Manufacturers Institute website – www.cashmere.org.

Cashmere is the fine undercoat or “down” produced by goats during winter. There is a worldwide shortage of cashmere. Products made from this fibre are in great demand, especially in Western countries. In spite of large fluctuations in both wool and mohair prices internationally, the cashmere market has remained stable. The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) or Döhne Agricultural Development Institute (DADI) (details under heading 6) work with the indigenous Nguni/Mbusi goat in the Eastern Cape. These goats produce top quality cashmere equal to Mongolia cashmere.

 

3. Alpacas

Find the notes on alpaca farming on www.africanalpacas.co.za.

Alpacas, llamas, guanacos and vicunas form the group of South American camelids, originating from northern Andean mountains mainly Peru, Chile and Bolivia. Large scale exportations began in the mid 80’s to the other countries including the USA, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, China, and in 2000 into South Africa.

Alpaca produces a fine silky fibre. Thickness of baby alpaca might be 15-20µ, the average being 22-26µ, and older alpacas over 30µ. It is devoid of the lanoline found in sheep’s wool which causes shearing equipment to overheat. Yield varies from 2-5kg. There are two fibre types: huacaya (over 90%) which grows out of the skin like Marino wool – is crimpy, lustrous and gathered in staples; and Suri which hangs in tight locks without crimp similar to the Angora goat.

The fibre is carded and sometimes blended with sheep, silk, angora or other natural fibres. It spins easily and is made into knitted, woven or felted garments. Alpaca come in 12 natural colours – white, fawns, browns, greys and black – but also dye easily into fashion colours.

Alpacas are frequently farmed on smaller properties. Stocking rate recommended is10/ha on irrigated pastures. They are intelligent and easily trained. This makes them ideal farm pets. Yet, these child-friendly animals ate used with great success as herd protectors by commercial sheep farmers in the E Cape. They are used especially during the lambing season against the jackal and rooikat.

The alpaca industry is still regarded as being in the breeding phase. This is where new investors will gain their highest returns. A minimill, dedicated to processing alpaca fibre, has been developed in KZN where high quality yarn is produced for the commercial market. Various breeders have trained staff to do spinning, knitting, felting and weaving that now market an exclusive South African alpaca garment. Alpaca filled duvets are the latest development in the industry. The enhanced thermal qualities of this unique natural fibre make these products both desirable and highly marketable.

The alpaca has endeared the hearts of many that either keeps them for their pleasant nature and an easy to farm livestock, or those that see the potential in the future market of our fledgling industry.

Source: Gavin Lindhorst, African Alpacas