The Bill Sims Wool and Mohair Research Laboratory, housed at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center in San Angelo, has a 35-year history of analyzing fiber samples of sheep and goats for quality and yield.
It’s a service they offer to fiber producers nationwide, and San Angelo is now one of only two research laboratories that provides those services in the U.S.
“We’ve always offered our services to alpaca producers too, but we want to make sure the industry is aware we’re not just limited to sheep and goats,” said Ronald Pope, Ph.D., AgriLife Research animal fiber scientist, San Angelo. “We provide timely and meaningful information to producers about their animal’s fiber based on the samples they send.”
The state-of-the-art laboratory utilizes over $1 million of equipment, which includes infrared, microscopes and lasers, to scientifically analyze the fiber samples submitted to them. These are typically wool, mohair or cashmere samples, but they also analyze alpaca.
Alpaca fiber is used in clothing, rugs and other textiles. It has a similar structure to wool fiber and can be tested using the same technology. American alpaca breeders have traditionally bred the animals for fiber diameter, which is a highly inheritable trait. The smaller the diameter, the finer and softer the fiber. That fact makes scientific analysis of the fiber a key part of making sound production decisions.
Pope said knowing which animals produce the best fiber is crucial in making genetic decisions that improve breeding programs and their associated bottom lines. The lab can analyze fiber diameter, length and yield. The lab has also conducted research on North American environmental effects on fiber production among alpaca, sheep, Angora goats and cashmere goats.
The Bill Sims Wool and Mohair Research Laboratory was established in 1985 to address the needs of national wool and mohair research programs. The research done on objective measurement of fiber has been critical for ensuring international wool imports meet the specifications of U.S. textile mills and that U.S. exported wool meets global standards.