There are an increasing number of fiber mills available offering to process your alpaca fleece. How do you go about choosing a fiber mill for your alpaca fiber? There are many things to take into consideration. The first thing I would consider is the end product. Can you see the quality of the yarn or roving that the mill produces? If you do not have samples from friends or other people who have used the mill, then getting recommendations from other alpaca breeders would be useful. If you are lucky enough to have a mill within easy travel distance, taking a trip to the mill is very worthwhile. If a trip is not possible then certainly talk to the mill about the various options. This will also give you some idea of the skill level of the mill. Processing alpaca is different from processing sheep’s wool and there is often a steep learning curve involved.
You also need to check the range of services available. Not every mill produces rug yarn, for example. If that is what you want, then you will need to do your research. You may want to blend your alpaca with other natural fibers. Most mills carry a range of blending fibers but others will require you to provide it.
One thing that I consider a necessity in a mill is a fiber separator or dehairer. This machine separates out the courser fibers such as guard hair, but also gets out those very fine pieces of vegetable matter that you just cannot get out with skirting or sorting. Although this adds to the cost of processing, it also produces a better end product which will sell your yarn more easily. You will also need to take account of the overall cost of processing. Small amounts are expensive to process which is why sorting and grading is so important in producing larger batches of fiber. There are usually price breaks with increased poundage.
A vitally important issue, at least for me, is turn around time. When you send your fiber to the mill, when will you get it back? Many new mills start off with short turn around but as their business increases so does the waiting time. I am fortunate to have a mill that uses an appointment system. I book a date for my fiber to go to the mill and I can expect to get it back withing six weeks or sometimes sooner. You cannot sell your fiber if it is sitting at the mill!