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Southwestern Ont. alpaca farmers call for more wool processing resources in province


Nestled in the rural farmlands of Erin, Ont., lies a farm called Mimosa Springs Alpacas.

Owner, Anna Dehn got into the alpaca farming industry back in 2018 when she discovered an increased interest in alpaca products among Canadians.

Today, nearly 150 alpacas call Mimosa Springs home.

‘We want you to want to buy alpaca. We want you to love it as much as we do and we need to educate you on the qualities of it,” Dehn said.

For Dehn and her family, alpaca farming is more than just a lifestyle, it’s a passion.

“It comes with its challenges but it certainly is enjoyable. It usually takes between three and four days to process alpaca fibre,” she told CTV News.

But for many Ontario farmers like Dehn, turning the soft, luxurious alpaca fibre into a marketable product has been a challenge.

“We need more access to fibre mills. A few have closed down, a lot have become more private. So we do need to open them up more [and] we need to educate people more.”

Since the beginning of her alpaca farming journey, Dehn says she has struggled to find reliable information on how to process the fibre. The few mills in Ontario that handle alpaca wool often have long wait times, causing significant delays.

“The wait times were upwards of 18 months to two years and we had already been holding on to fibre for about three years at that point,” she said.

Mimosa Springs Alpacas in Erin, Ont. on July 6, 2024. (Hannah Schmidt/CTV Kitchener)

Dehn isn’t alone with her concerns.

“A lot of farmers are sending their fibreoutwest which makes it very expensive just on the shipping costs as well,” said Frances Stewart, a local farmer at Maple Ridge Acres and president of Alpaca Ontario.

In terms of alpaca fibre processing resources, Stewart says they are hard to come by.

“It's very hard when you're when you're filling out applications on the grant side or the loan side with the government because we don't even have a category for alpaca farming,” she said.

“Alpaca Canada focuses on the registry, which is great.  That's where you register your animal so you can find bloodlines, maybe health concerns, certain things like that. Then there's your provincial level Alpaca Ontario. They also have some brochures available and they have offered webinars. I have not seen any courses and I would like courses,” Dehn said.

Custom mills in Canada offer various services and may have differing requirements to process alpaca fibre.

“There are very few mills that produce the finished product. And the issue with that is that those mills that are larger have minimum yields requirements. So in other words, they're looking for 100 to 150 pounds of fibre,” Stewart explained.

Stewart says if a farmer cannot find a mill that is accepting fibre or the wait list is too long, a common mistake new farmers make is not storing the fibre properly.

“A lot of these small farms that don't have the yields, they're either throwing out their fibre or collecting it over the years. And the problem is it deteriorates over the years.”

To help speed along their fibre processing operation, Dehn recently invested in a mini mill to process their alpaca wool on-site, a decision she says will help keep the business running smoothly.

“Right now, we're in the process of learning how to make yarn nicely. We have a wet filter, that we can make felted fibre from. You can make scarves and stuff like that from it.”

But she says it won't be enough in the long run if there continues to be a lack of resources and education made available to farmers.

“Let's get more education. We need it. Even if that means bringing in experts from other countries.”

“[It’s about] making sure that those farms understand and are educated in the care of the alpacas, because they're quite a bit different [than other animals] and they are very important to our associations or organizations,” Stewart aid.

In the meantime, many farmers are resorting to agri-tourism to keep up with farm payments.

“It's kind of contradictory to what we all went in this for in the first place, which is to produce quality fibre,” Stewart said. “People love to see the alpacas and learn about them, so agri-tourism won’t be going away and will be here to stay.”

To learn more about alpaca fibre processing, you can visit the Alpaca Canada or Alpaca Ontario websites. Top Stories

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