MESA COUNTY, Colo.-
Alpacas are soft to the touch and quiet to the ear. Now, their fibers are starting to make a name for themselves.
The alpaca industry is not only growing in the country but also on the Western Slope.
There are numerous uses for alpaca fiber, and researchers are discovering even more.
One local breeder has made strides in creating a mill to process the fiber, and now takes orders from around the world.
Mike McDermott, owner and operator of SunCrest Orchard Alpacas, LLC and Fiber Works, said, "Two percent of the population cannot wear an alpaca sweater. When we are dealing with wool, we're up to 34 percent. Thermal properties, it's about eight times warmer than your sheep wool."
Alpacas have been domesticated in various countries like Peru for thousands of years.
In the United States, the fiber industry is fairly new.
"The purpose of the alpaca is their fiber, so we start trying to figure out how to get it processed. Back then it was three months to three years before we got our fiber back," McDermott said.
Even though he was just a breeder in 2005, McDermott later decided to build a mill.
The mill is beneficial to alpaca breeders like himself and others in the region.
Mary Jo George is the co-owner of Bookcliff Alpacas. "There are more farms around than people realize, in the valley and also in the Western Slope," George said.
"When we first got into it there were three of us. Today we have 21 to 23 farms, I think. We work together and educate one another," said McDermott.
McDermott is also processing fiber from beyond the Grand Valley. "Fiber coming from Hawaii all the way to West Virginia. Also, I've had fiber from Canada."
Breeders are looking forward to the future of the industry on the Western Slope.
"There's unlimited possibilities for the wool and fiber, clothing, upholstery, you name it. We're just barely finding out about it," said George.
Looking toward the future, McDermott said, "In a couple years we're going to have the largest natural farm mill in the U.S here in the Grand Valley. If everything goes as planned, we will hopefully be employing about 85 to 120 people in that mill."
If you're not a fan of wool, there's no need to worry; alpacas are here and their numbers are growing.
Bookcliff Alpacas and SunCrest Orchard Alpacas are both open for public tours.
For a list of alpaca farms on the Western Slope, click here
For an appointment at Bookcliff Alpacas, call (970) 858-8866.
For more on SunCrest Orchard Alpacas, call (970) 464-4862.
Or to visit their website, click here