At Urcuchillay pronounced (ur-cu-chill-ay) we don’t breed our animals for meat, nor milk, but instead we breed for their luxurious fibre by combining the fleeces of our Alpacas, Angora Goats and Shetland Sheep. So why the combination? Because we believe it brings out the best qualities of each of the fibres. Keeping the three different species does take some work in managing their different husbandry needs which can prove challenging. There have been times where we wondered if it was worth the extra work involved, but whenever we get our wool back from the mills we always say to each other "it WAS worth it"!
Starting with just two alpacas in 2010, building our herd of alpacas took time because alpacas are pregnant for 11.5 months, so there was a lot of waiting. We got a bit bored waiting for the cria (an alpaca baby), so we bought some Angora Goats and Shetland Sheep. After nearly five years of waiting to get enough fibre, we sent a selection of fleeces to The Border Mill with some rather complicated instructions and were thrilled with the results.
We now have enough animals that we won’t have to wait another 5 years, in fact we now find we have more fleeces than we can get through, especially the Angora! Producing up to 10kg a year off a full grown male and their twice yearly shearing schedule means we are never short of mohair!
This is why our males don’t get sent away for meat on our farm. Although some do get castrated if they aren’t good enough to go on as studs, they still have their place on our farm and make their own contribution.
We often get asked “can they graze together?” The answer to this is the alpacas and goats can, the alpacas and sheep can, but the sheep and goats can’t due to the worm burden and cross contamination issues. And although they do have different medication programmes, I have an excellent system called Alpaca Manager that helps me stay on top of it all.
We find the alpaca will add softness and wearability to less fine wools, and of course with such a huge range of colours that alpaca comes in, we can match the colour to maintain the lovely character of special fleeces like Shetland. And there are benefits the other way – alpaca being quite a silky, heavy fibre, the wool will add a bit of lightness and elasticity, which can be particularly good for heavier yarns like Aran or Chunky. As for mohair, that’s usually very strong, so processes fine on its own; but the blend with alpaca just gives it a bit more softness and adds a feeling of luxury to it. We basically think that huacaya is a ‘magic’ fibre – blend it with anything and it seems to make it process more easily and produce a more beautiful yarn. So the blend of the three really is the best of all worlds - the silky shine of mohair, the warmth and spring of wool, and the smooth softness of alpaca. What more could you ask?!