Orchard Mesa ranch counts on mill to capitalize on surplus of alpaca fiber
A local business’ quest to speed up its alpaca fiber-making process is gaining interest from ranchers throughout the valley, due to an upgrade in equipment that’s making for a boost in demand.
The owners of SunCrest Orchards Alpaca, 3608 E 1/4 Road, acquired a new fiber mill during the first week of December, making the operation among only a handful with the capability of processing fiber from theirs as well as other farms.
Fiber mills across the state, including one in Glade Park, are at least two years backed up in getting fiber out, SunCrest owners said.
“The industry itself is right at its infancy,” said Mike McDermott, co-owner of SunCrest Orchards, which has now changed its name to SunCrest Orchard Alpacas & Fiber Work. The business has been in operation for three years.
“There’s a lot of alpaca fiber that is not even being processed today. I hear of more and more farmers actually just throwing their fiber away.”
In the past, processing fiber manually took too long to produce enough to be able to sell and market, said Cindy McDermott, co-owner.
With the addition of the fiber mill, SunCrest is planning to also diversify into processing other specialty fibers, like cashmere, silk and angora.
Julia Durmaj, partner of Shooting Star Ranch in Palisade, said she wants to be one of the first customers.
“It’s very hard to find a fiber mill,” Durmaj said. “We’ve got 19 alpacas and I know there are eight to 10 alpaca ranches here in the valley that really have a hard time finding a place to process their fiber. If you leave the fiber sitting for too long, it’s not as good as if you can get it processed at least within the first year.”
Currently, area farmers are required to send the fiber out of the area, and processing can take anywhere from a year to two years, she said.
“We’re very hopeful with the new mill in the area that it’s going to speed up the process for those in the valley, to get our product back faster and start working on our product sooner,” said Durmaj, who makes hats, purses and other products from the fiber.
As the cold sets in, ranch owners are recognizing the opportunity.
“We’ve sold a ton of alpaca socks this year,” Cindy McDermott said. “It’s three times warmer than wool.”
The mill is processing seven pounds of fiber daily and will reach 10 pounds a day soon, owners said. The mill is capable of producing 25 pounds a day at its full processing potential.
Mike McDermott said the more he and his wife are around the alpacas, the more they have enjoyed the unique fiber of the animal.
“That’s what it boiled down to — the fiber itself and how wonderful it is,” he said. “The Incas and the Mayans, they called it the fleece of the gods. We fell in love with the fiber itself. It’s an awesome thing.”