by Sharon Bramblett
After shearing our eight llamas in early May 2014, I was again faced with whether or not it’s worth having the fleeces professionally processed by a fiber mill. I’ve used Zeilinger’s in Michigan several times and am generally pleased with the cleanliness and quality of the returned fiber. Their posted charges, based on weight of raw fiber, are $13/lb. for three pounds or more; but $23/lb. if less than three pounds! Naively, when we first acquired llamas, I wanted to spin everyone’s fiber, even if it wasn’t the best quality. Later I became more discerning (read “cheap”) and only sent fiber from those llamas from which I have experience spinning and producing wearable items. I mailed the fleeces to Zeilinger’s June 6; they were returned October 2.
Because we get about 1.5 pounds of fleece per year from each of our five best llamas, we decided to accumulate two years’ worth before sending for processing. Usually we don’t skirt each fleece, but 2014 was a bumper year for clover burrs that processing doesn’t remove. Thus, Claud and I skirted them by hand, adding about three hours each of our time per fleece but at the same time, reducing the weight. We can’t win.
Most llamas have two types of fiber: down and guard hair. The mill first washes the fiber, allows it to dry, then passes it via a conveyor belt through a dehairing machine that separates the soft down from guard hair and VM (vegetable matter). Clean, dehaired down (clouds) drops into the first bin; guard hair mixed with VM into second and third bins. Less than half of the raw weight is returned as clouds, suitable for spinning into yarn. Having the clouds processed further into roving would have been an additional charge. I like spinning clouds into worsted yarn.
|Llama||raw fleece weight (lb)||processing costs||usable fiber (oz) returned(excludes waste)||cost/oz|
|Majic||3.12 lb.||$40.56||24.6 oz.||$1.64|
|Miss Z White||2.12||$48.76||12.6||$3.86|
|Miss Z Brown||2.14||$49.22||15.8||$3.11|
Waste fiber (including VM) is also returned to us. We accumulate several years of waste then send it to Ingrid’s Handwoven Rugs in Paint Rock, TX where it’s woven into rugs. The guard hair in this waste llama fiber makes strong, washable, easily vacuumed rugs.
Note: Because Miss Z is a paint llama with a large, dark brown “saddle” that contrasts starkly with the rest of her white fiber, I divided the colors for processing.