There are two types of alpaca - huacaya (with crimpy sheep-like “wool”) and suri (with silky dreadlocks). Huacaya are seen more often than suri and probably make up more than 90% of the alpaca population worldwide. This may be because they are hardier in the harsh mountain climates of Peru and Chile than the suri whose silky fleece offers less protection from the cold.
The fleece, whilst resembling sheeps' wool to some extent, is actually softer and less prickly than wool. This is because the individual fibres have less scales than the fibres in wool. Alpaca is also less greasy than sheeps' wool. Crimp is desirable in a huacaya fleece, unlike suri which has virtually no crimp. Alpaca fibre is ideal for people who are allergic to sheeps' wool as it seems to cause few allergy problems.
The alpaca originates from Peru, Chile and Bolivia, and is closely related to the llama, vicuna and guanaco. these animals collectively are "camelids", members of the camel family. In Chile they are farmed mostly by peasant farmers and supply much of the family's needs for clothing and food. Predominantly in Chile they are coloured and all the natural colours are still seen there. In Peru there has been a conscious effort to breed for quality, and for white - which makes the fibre easy to market. Threfore, the better quality animals tend to come from Peru but are mostly white, while Chile still has colour but of a lower quality. Our challenge is to breed quality into the coloured animals - or the reverse, to breed colour back into the quality animals.