Friday, August 6, 2010


New fibre analysis technology released

In 2005, Australian Alpaca Fibre Testing (AAFT) drove a wedge into the world’s premium fibre industry by creating Australia’s Ultrafine Bale Scheme for top grade alpaca fleeces. This successful scheme established a ‘quality assured’ supply chain for ultrafine fleeces to the global fashion industry.

Owner of AAFT, Paul Vallely acknowledges the scheme has not been without its challenges, however, its future is assured given the growing number of breeders contributing fleeces.

While AAFT have now taken on a coordinating role over the scheme, the firm has changed its focus to that of developing opportunities for all high grade alpaca fibre types in what will be called ‘Premium Alpaca Fleece’. The project can include Suri and coloured fleeces.

The ideal behind Premium Alpaca Fleece is to produce fleeces with attributes that are most valued by fibre buyers, spinners and processors in order to establish a truly viable and sustainable alpaca fibre industry. The aim is to offset the high logistic costs associated with low volume, by developing a high value product.

According to Paul Vallely, “The first stepping stone in developing a premium alpaca fibre industry is to effectively identify breeding stock that will produce progeny capable of growing high value fleeces”.

Unfortunately, existing technologies and practices fall short of providing adequate tools to alpaca breeders to meet the challenge of premium fleece production.

In order to develop a trait analysis regime for selecting ‘premium fleece’ alpacas, AAFT relied on its parent firm’s experience in the production and marketing of ultrafine merino wool.

Crucially, AAFT also relied upon the findings of its previous market analysis on key drivers for premium fleece during the preliminary stage of the ultrafine scheme.

The feedback AAFT continually received from businesses that use high grade alpaca fibre, or considered using the fibre was that there are three main qualities they place a high value on.

Firstly, the finer the diameter, the softer and more ‘prestige’ the fabric and eventual garment, generally speaking.

Secondly, luxury garments cannot tolerate significant amounts of coarse fibres. A useful guide is that there should be 100% comfort factor (no fibres above 30 microns) These coarse fibres become extremely problematic in latter stage processing. It was worth noting that users of the fibre did not differentiate between primary and secondary fibres. The common response was that coarse secondary fibres can be as problematic as primary fibres.

Thirdly, there should be minimal variation in fibre diameter over the fleece area. High variation makes it extremely difficult for processors to reliably produce ‘top end’ product.

This third point highlighted a major problem with current forms of fibre analysis. Fibre testing has tended to concentrate on just the midside sample location. As a consequence, the variation in diameter over an alpaca fleece can be as much as 10 microns. This is a problem that has evolved over time as breeders selection programs have focussed on a small point in the fleece.

Based on the above experiences and subsequent scientific research, AAFT have released a new form of fibre trait analysis aimed at breeding for premium fleece production.

The concept has been labeled Genetic Fleece Improvement Technology, or GIFT.

There are three main components of the GIFT analysis.

The first component of GIFT analysis involves the testing of three different samples from the same alpaca. The shoulder, midside and hip areas are used as they have been shown to give an excellent indication of variation over the fleece area.

This component avoids the problem of focusing on one small point of the fleece when appraising the breeding potential of an alpaca. It is this aspect of GIFT analysis that has resulted in many surprises for breeders.

Secondly, the analysis provides the breeder with a regular fibre measurement report using a ‘certified’ scoured test. The report includes histogram and micron profile graphs for samples taken from the three designated sites on the alpaca.

Thirdly, the GIFT report also includes ‘across fibre’ measurements to identify the degree of variation in fibre diameter between the individual fibres, thereby extracting the ‘noise’ from environmental influences. The result is a much clearer window through which to appraise genetic influences on the incidence of coarse fibres than has previously been possible.

It is worthy to note that ‘across fibre’ variation measurement was successfully used in a WA research project in the 1990’s. The measurement form was again successfully trialed by the University of New England’s Animal Genetics Breeding Unit during a merino wool project from 2005 to 2009.

Finally, the report ranks each analysis using a benchmark database compiled from all other GIFT testing.

Possibly, the main benefits in using GIFT analysis is that it focuses on market drivers for fleece qualities and relies on fleece traits that are highly heritable.

As GIFT analysis is more expensive that conventional testing, the concept is suitable for selecting key breeding stock, promotion of high value breeding alpacas, monitoring breeding strategies that use indirect selection such as follicle traits and fast tracking genetic improvement.

Before embarking on a GIFT analysis program, breeders are encouraged by AAFT to become fully acquainted with the details of GIFT. For this reason, an information page is contained on their website at Further, a series of one day workshops are being conducted around Australia with dates and venues also contained on the AAFT website.

It is expected that in the near future, alpaca stud sales will be held where alpacasGIFT that exhibit superior traits from analysis will be sold to those who wish to make a head-start into the premium fleece market.

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