The llama is not only much larger than the alpaca but also carries a "double coat"; that is to say that it has a fine thermal under coat which is covered by a coarser outer coat to protect it from the elements. Unfortunately, the hybrid has allowed this trait to perpetuate in the alpaca producing what is often referred to as "guard" hair predominately seen in the chest and lower belly area. The national breeding programme is trying to reduce the amount of "guard" hair through selective breeding as it is not desirable for commercial products.

 

We are fortunate that the Incans revered their alpaca as many were mummified and their remains unearthed during archaeological digs. These remains left much of the fibre intact and we are able to discern how the alpaca looked all those years ago and, therefore, unlike many species, we have a goal that we are breeding back to rather than moving forward blindly.

 

Britain saw its first alpacas during the Victorian era when Queen Victoria was presented with a pair that resided in Windsor Great Park. Unfortunately, little was known about their care and they died without producing any off-spring. However, one enterprising Victorian, Titus Salt found the beauty and benefits of alpaca fibre and set up a mill creating all sorts of weird and wonderful products from ladies dresses to gentleman's overcoats and, believe it or not, umbrellas. In his heyday, he was importing all the alpaca fibre Peru could provide! A knighthood bestowed and Sir Titus Salt left us with a wonderful legacy in Saltaire, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Regretfully, with the decline in his business many of the patterns and processes were lost and have not been rediscovered to this day. No more umbrellas.