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THE FABULOUS SURI

WHAT IS A SURI?

Suris are a type of alpaca, which is a domesticated member of the camelid family. Along with llamas, guanacos and vicunas, alpacas are native to South America. Today, there are about 3 million alpacas in the Andean Highlands, mostly in Peru but also in Chile and Bolivia. Alpaca are renowned for their luxury fibre which has superior handle, softness and lustre.

Of the two types of alpaca - the huacaya and the suri - the huacaya is the more common of the two and has a fleece not unlike that of the merino, with a soft, fluffy appearance and defined crimp.

The suri, however, comprising approximately 5% of the world's alpacas has a fleece that hangs down from the body in pencils or locks. The suri fibre is prized for its lustre and softness of handle. It is used primarily for producing women's coats and because of its rarity is highly sought after by fashion houses, bringing a premium price in the fibre market.

Since the first major import into Australia in 1989, the number of alpacas here has increased to around 45000. Of these, the Australian suri herd comprises 2500 animals. While some of these are not pure suri, there has been much interest in crossing huacaya and Suris to increase the number of coloured suri. Alpacas come in a range of natural colours, including white, various shades of fawn and brown, grey and black.


LIFESTYLE AND SMART INVESTMENT

The desire to own the wonderful, rare and beautiful suri alpaca can lead to a great lifestyle and a very rewarding business. With less than 5% of the world population of alpacas being suri and numbers declining yearly in Peru, the potential is unlimited for the relatively small number of dedicated suri breeders in Australia. While they are a fleece animal, the industry in Australia is still too small to support commercial fleece herds. Their current value is as stud animals to breed up the numbers required for commercial production. Although there has been suspicion of the alpaca with some sceptics waiting for them to go the way of ostriches and emus, the industry is strong and continues to grow. Good quality alpacas continue to hold their value and Suris command premium prices. There are thought to be no more than 120,000 Suris worldwide and only 1-2% of these are coloured.

The Australian industry has made great inroads into improving the quality of animals over successive generations and is becoming a significant market for other countries seeking elite breeding stock. There has never been a better time to be part of this exciting industry.

About Suris

WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN A SURI

Although a suri looks very different from the more common huacaya, the conformational traits to look out for are generally the same. The animal should be well proportioned, have straight legs and back, a rounded rump and correct bite. The ears may be slightly longer and the muzzle shorter than a huacaya.

The characteristics of the fleece however are what distinguish the suri. When assessing a suri, you should look for the following.


LUSTRE: perhaps the single most important characteristic of the suri fibre, lustre is the shine inherent to the most exquisite fleeces - open up a fleece to assess the lustre next to the skin.

FINENESS: the finer the fleece, the softer and more lustrous it is and the higher its price.

LOCK 'ARCHITECTURE': well-defined pencil locks which persist throughout the fleece (not just on the surface) and are evident right to the skin. These can be curled, twisted or waves, but must hang down in individual locks.

DENSITY: is important in regard to return for fleeces and it also helps keep out dust and vegetable matter.

UNIFORMITY: the locking and fineness should be uniform over the body of the animal from the neck through the body to the rump and even extending down on the legs.

COVERAGE: the suri should be well covered, with a long forelock, and fleece on cheeks and from chin, the front and rear legs should be well covered with consistent locking to the toes.

COLOUR: colour is a personal choice: the whites and light fawns are more common (about 90% of the Peruvian clip), but are generally of higher quality than the rarer coloured Suris.

EASY CARE SURI ALPACAS

Alpacas are hardy and generally disease and parasite resistant. They require basics care of 6 monthly vaccinations, occasional toe and teeth trimming and annual shearing. They are very easy to herd and handle.

Suris also:


Suris are ideal for:

FIBRE OF THE GODS

Suri fibre has a handle superior to other fibres because the scales along the shaft of the fibre have a longer and tighter profile, providing a very smooth surface. Suri fibre also has very little medullation (coarse, hollow fibres which cause prickling and do not process or dye as well as normal fibres).

On the world market, the fibre of suri alpacas is coveted for its lustre and softness by the high fashion textile industry and today commands a price double that for huacaya. Suri fibre has the softness of cashmere, lustre of silk, warmth and featherweight of goose down and durability of wool. Suri fibre blends well with wool and other fine fibre, including silk, and yarn can be knitted, crocheted or woven.


Suri Fibre is used for:


Worldwide suri fire is most commonly made up into overcoats which are brushed to bring out its natural lustre. In Australia, some enterprising and highly skilled breeders in Queensland are hand-spinning suri fleece to produce gossamer-thin thread for lacework shawls and even wedding dresses.

When the fashion trade demands suri, the orders are hard to fill and the price increases rapidly. The majority is sold to Italy, with smaller markets being US, Europe and Japan.

Research data has shown that suri fleece generally has a higher density and yield than that of the huacaya. In processing, the yield of suri fibre is 90% compared to 43 - 76% for sheep's wool because it has very little lanolin.

Suri fleece sells for between $25 and $90 a kg. The average suri produces 2.5 - 3.5 kgs of usable fleece per year.


About Suris