Amanda raised alpacas for 8 years, having as many as 18 at one time.
Alpacas are shorn once per year and their fur, also called fiber or fleece, can be made into many things. The fleece from the alpaca’s back and sides is called the “blanket," but it's also referred to as “firsts." It is generally the longest and the best quality fleece: Spinners prefer long fiber when making yarn, as it is easier to work with. The rest of the fleece, taken from the alpaca’s neck and legs, is called “seconds." Seconds are shorter, more random cuts that can be used for felting, making core-spun rug yarn, and in the creation of various crafts. In this article, I will show you what I did with my alpaca fleece and tell you whether or not each product was profitable.
1. Alpaca Yarn
The first and most obvious thing to do with fleece is to have it spun into soft, beautiful yarn. I tried my hand at spinning and was just not good at it, so I chose to have my yarn spun at a small mill in Ohio.
Clean the Fleece First
I had to clean my fleece before I could take it to the mill. This is a dirty process, as the fleece is full of fine dust. Over time, a friend found that the best method was to pick out all the hay and large debris, then place the fleece in a laundry basked fitted with hardware cloth and blow the dust out with a shop-vac. This friend and I loaded a Suburban with bags of fleece and made the four hour trip to the mill.
Take It to a Mill for Spinning
We were given a tour of the mill, which had a process to separate the coarse guard hair from the finer fleece. We could then choose to have the waste made into felt or core-spun rug yarn. I loved the colorful rug yarn, so that is what I chose. It took about 8 months to get my yarn back from the mill, which is standard. It cost about $8 per skein to have the yarn spun.
Is It Profitable?
Considering the cost of purchasing, feeding, vaccinating, shearing, vet bills, and supplements for the alpacas, the price per skein would have to be pretty high to make a profit on yarn. I priced mine at $18 per skein, $15 if the customer bought two or more skeins. I sold some, but I still have a lot of yarn left.
2. Knitted Products
Another product option is to use the yarn to make something like a scarf or ear warmer. I made the scarf and ear warmer in the photo below. It takes a lot of time to knit a product. I have seen alpaca scarves at craft fairs listed for upwards of $40. Even at that price, it is hard to make a profit considering the cost of the yarn, marketing and booth fees, and the time involved. If I have time to knit, or find that I enjoy weaving, I might make more scarves to sell to use up my extra yarn. Or I may just give them away as gifts to my friends and family.
3. Alpaca Dryer Balls
This was my best-selling endeavor to make something with alpaca fleece. Dryer balls are popular right now as an alternative to dryer sheets. They are natural, biodegradable, and eco-friendly; they contain no chemicals, dye, or fragrances, and produce no toxic fumes. They come in many natural colors and last for years. Essential oils can be added to the balls to scent the laundry. Dryer balls help reduce static. They separate the clothes, which helps make the dryer more efficient and shorten drying time.
How I Made Dryer Balls (Step-by-Step Instructions)
- I picked the large debris (burrs, sticks, etc.) out of the fleece.
- I used a shop vac to blow the fine dust out of the fleece.
- I balled up the fleece and tied it into a piece of pantyhose.
- I placed the balls in the washing machine for a quick hot/cold cycle with a free and clear detergent (Seventh Generation or similar—Dr. Bronner’s Pure Castile Soap is also a good option.)
- I removed the balls from the pantyhose after this cycle so that they didn’t felt to the pantyhose.
- I put the balls back in the washing machine on a sanitary (2 hour) cycle with extra hot water and a cold rinse. Sometimes this step was repeated to help with the felting process.
- I ran the balls through the dryer, then finish drying them in baskets by the wood stove.
Is It Profitable?
I sold my dryer balls for $5 each or six for $25 and I used up all of my remaining fleece making them. I sold out as fast as I could make them. Was it profitable? I’m not sure. Again, the cost of raising the alpacas is high to begin with. Fiber and craft markets tend to charge a fairly high booth fee. There are advertising costs and costs associated with having a display. Many markets require you to have your own tent and tent weights. I saved by sharing a booth with a friend who makes soap. Our products went together nicely and having a variety of items in the booth meant that we got more traffic.
4. Bird Nesting Wreaths
This was a cute idea. I clipped tender, fresh willow branches, braided them, and formed them into a “wreath”. Then I used a large needle to poke alpaca fleece into the wreath. I added hemp string to hang it from. Birds can then take the fleece and use it in their nests in the spring. I sold little packets of replacement fleece that could be added to the wreath when it was empty. I thought about selling a kit, so that crafty folks could make their own, but I never got around to that. The wreaths were priced as follows: $10 large, $8 medium, $5 small. I nearly sold out of them. If nothing else, they looked interesting hanging in the booth and drew folks in for a closer look.
5. Cat Toys
Another neat idea was to make mini dryer ball cat toys. This idea came about when my daughter started making pom-poms out of cat fur, after she brushed the cat. We sold the cat toys for $1 each. Not a money maker, but they were cute and one additional product to showcase in the booth. The more you have for people to look at, the longer they will spend shopping in your booth. Small, cheap items for pets and kids tend to be a hit and the cat toys fit the bill.
Of course I also sold the raw alpaca fleece for $25 per bag. That was either the whole fleece from shearing one alpaca, or it was half an alpaca fleece depending on the size and quality of the fleece. I sold several fleeces this way, which saved me the time of making a product, but I still had to do the dirty work of cleaning the fleece. It costs $35 to shear one alpaca, so this was not profitable. I also sold small sample packets of fleece for $1 that contained a mix of colors.
A Final Note on Profits
When you look at the raw numbers, this was not a profitable endeavor. But if you have a bunch of alpaca fleece just sitting around, you might as well turn it into cash. Raw fleece in the closet does not make money and takes up valuable space. I raised alpacas for 8 years, having up to 18 at one time. I had a lot of fleece stored up! I was glad to free up some space and make money in the process. If you enjoy working with fleece and crafting, that is a plus too. You can do what you enjoy and perhaps make a few bucks in the process.
Put Your Creativity to Work
If you have oodles of alpaca fleece sitting around, like I did, get creative! I hope these ideas help to get you started. Try making some of these products, or use them to help you dream up something new. Good luck and happy crafting!
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2019 Amanda Buck